Anyone thinking that winning games on the road in World Cup qualifying isn’t as tough as people say might want to reconsider after last weekend.
Skeptics might want to ask France (pictured), which was thrashed by Austria (ranked 90 spots below the French in the FIFA rankings). They could also ask Angola, which lost to Benin (ranked 46 spots lower), or Ivory Coast, which tied Mozambique (ranked 80 spots lower).
Those are just some of the shock results and near-shocks that permeated throughout qualifying. Here are some others:
- Italy needed a 90th-minute winner to beat Cyprus, which is 63 spots lower
- Cameroon used a second-half comeback to beat the Cape Verde Islands, ranked 75 points lower
- Sweden tied Albania, ranked 71 spots lower
- Scotland lost to Macedonia, ranked 40 spots lower
Results like these are what make the U.S. team’s 1-0 victory against Cuba on a rainy and steamy night in Havana that much more meaningful, and what makes the Americans 2-0 start after two road World Cup qualifiers that much more impressive.
The Cuba match was a sloppy encounter played on a field most American high school games probably wouldn’t be played on and the result was a game without much rhythm or Joga Bonito. It could have ended up a draw if not for Clint Dempsey’s clinical finish or Tim Howard’s stunning save of a potential Carlos Bocanegra own goal, but the Americans found a way and now sit five points clear of third-place Guatemala in its group with four matches left in group play (three of which are at home).
As much as some fans wanted to make the first two U.S. qualifiers evidence of a team in crisis, what the two road wins provided was a test of character. Now that the Americans have passed those, it is on to the first true test of soccer ability, on Wednesday at Toyota Park in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview against Trinidad & Tobago.
There will be no rowdy crowd or poor lighting or terrible field conditions or bunkering opponent, just a chance for the American team to show what it can do. After a summer of matches against world powers that gave the U.S. team few opportunities to dominate, the U.S. national team will be taking on an opponent that has played wide-open soccer so far in qualifying. If the Americans can’t create chances and score goals on Wednesday then U.S. coach Bob Bradley will run out of excuses for not bringing in the young attacking talents he has passed over early on in qualifying.
For now, American fans should appreciate the fact that their national team has six points from two road World Cup qualifiers. It is a track record no other team in CONCACAF can boast, and several top teams around the world would love to have right now because the road to World Cup 2010 is covered with landmines and the U.S. national team has already dodged two.