USA 2, Turkey 1: Blimey, hold on a bit, these Yanks can play!
You can just see it happening in lounges across England. Those lucky enough to get ESPN's satellite coverage of Saturday's pre-World Cup friendly between Turkey and the United States in Philadelphia were suddenly sitting up in their sofas, with beers and crisps flying everywhere.
"Cor blimey, luv a duck, these bleedin' Yanks can play!" they'll have yelped as Fulham's Clint Dempsey was hitting the back of the net to put his side, England's opening Group C rivals on June 12, 2-1 up against a very useful Turkish outfit.
And there we were thinking baseball, the NFL, ice hockey and basketball (oh, and track and field) are what they're really good at. It may be some game. Especially when England were put through such a struggle by Japan yesterday, before running out 2-1 winners in their deeply unimpressive friendly in Graz, Austria.
Certainly the Americans made me sit up in Centurion, my World Cup base, on Saturday night. Today this American side—prepared pretty thoroughly by the experienced Bob Bradley, who has been in charge for 60 games—fly in to South Africa. By tonight Landon Donovan—who made Bradley's goal last night with some aplomb—will be sleeping about a mile from where I am, in the lakeside luxury of the Irene Country Lodge.
I've just been there for lunch, with former South African goalkeeper Deshi Bhaktawer along with the owner of the lodge and most of Irene, Adrian van der Bijl and their families. What a place. A British village in the middle of Gauteng. Today, for about £5, we had "the same lunch the Americans will be eating". The talk was all of football and who'll win the World Cup.
It took the Americans a while to start playing last night. Ranked 14th in the world, they so nearly made a mess of the last game in their "send off series" tour. Everton's Tim Howard was called into action plenty in the opening 15 minutes and eventually conceded the first goal—from Arda Turan in the 27th minute—amongst howls of disbelief from a bumper 55,407 crowd in Philly.
But yes, these Turks were trying to impress their new boss Guus Hiddink. He will take over when his contract to manage Russia finally runs out in the autumn.
For a long time it looked like Michael Bradley, now with Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, was getting overrun in the midfield, despite his massive engine. Any thoughts I may have had about nepotism (he's boss Bob's son) were soon dispelled though as he sweated blood to keep his side in the game.
And then who pops up with the best run of the first half? Jozy Altidore, the Hull City striker who managed just one goal—against Manchester City—in the Premier League last season.
And the man whose greatest claim to fame was giving Sunderland's Scottish fullback Alan Hutton a good old head butt towards the end of the season, then produced the 58th-minute equaliser...in his first match since that red card on April 24.
That left Dempsey to send the huge crowd home happy with a well-taken 75th-minute winner as the US dominated the closing exchanges.
The 27-year-old from Texas, showing off his wonderful set of tattoos, said of his 18th goal in 61 appearances afterwards, "It was great, I just stuck it away. We were so much better in the second half."
The US play Australia in a friendly in South Africa next week (June 5). And then, with the very public backing of their President this week ("We are proud of our team, I will have a man in the Oval Office keeping an eye on their fortunes"), it's England, ranked 8th in the world.
Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Palace is the place to be on June 12...if you can get a ticket, as the World Cup's two best-supported visiting teams go toe-to-toe.
Still, with Algeria (ranked 30th) stuffed 3-0 by Ireland last week — the Irish should be here but Thierry Henry's hand denied them the chance in Paris last year—and Slovenia (25) lucky to get past Russia in the playoffs, the US and England should get through from Group C whatever the result.
Just as well really. Because blimey, these Yanks can play! Given that England needed two highly-flukey own-goals to see off Japan, this World Cup is anyone's.
Did anyone notice New Zealand, ranked 78th in the world, beat Serbia (15th) 1-0 tonight? Those Kiwis can play a bit too. Italy be warned! But what about favourites Spain—3-2 last-minute winners over Saudi Arabia?!
Germany cruised past Hungary 3-0, Slovakia drew 1-1 with Cameroon in other friendlies while earlier today, troubled South Korea fell 1-0.
I'm off to South Africa v Guatemala is Polokwane with Desh and the SABC lads tomorrow. It's just around the corner, this World Cup. Can you feel it?