I sat down to watch the two final round of 16 World Cup matches yesterday expecting hard-fought games and - to be honest - not a lot of excitement as the tension of the knock-out phases seems to take a grip on team tactics and nerves.
After watching the Argentina v Switzerland match, my worst fears were absolutely confirmed; an awful game - predictable, pedestrian, strewn with errors, poor passing and crosses, unimaginative play and very little to enthuse about (Lionel Messi excepted, of course).
USA v Belgium
I hoped and believed that the USA v Belgium match would be more entertaining but I had no idea I was about to watch the most exciting match I have seen in years and one of the grittiest, most committed and determined displays - plus a good deal of enterprise and skill - from the US team.
They were simply magnificent. They ran and ran, they played for each other, passed the ball and didn't just lump it forward, even when they were chasing the game. Also, they didn't dive, feign injury, waste time, commit professional fouls or do any of the other undesirable things that have crept into the game over the years and have made it so frustrating and infuriating for spectators to watch at times.
When their players lost the ball, they didn't roll around on the ground hoping to get a free-kick. Instead, they they got up, chased back and often re-gained possession. The US's philosophy and attitude was summed up in the performance of a 20-year-old who plays for Seattle Sounders in American Major League Soccer (MLS).
DeAndre Yedlin is nominally a right-back but was brought on as a replacement on the right-side of midfield for the injured Fabian Johnson after just 32 minutes. I say he was operating as a midfield player but the truth was he was everywhere and doing everything - tackling, passing running, dribbling, crossing.
This was as impressive a performance in what was effectively a wing-back position as I can remember seeing. To say it was reminiscent of the way Seamus Coleman plays for Everton gives you an idea of the contribution.
Few of the US team play their football in credible, competitive leagues; seven of the eleven who played most of this match ply their trade in the sedate environment of MLS but you would never have known it from this performance.
England embarrassed by USA effort?
England's pathetic efforts were put to shame by this US team and its attitude and approach to the game. Come to think of it so were Uruguay, Spain, Argentina, Italy and perhaps even Brazil. If these teams showed the spirit, commitment, teamwork and positive, sporting attitude the game - and this World Cup - would be the better for it.
We have had the bad aspects - Luis Suarez and the Uruguay FA, Arjen Robben's admission of diving, some highly dubious penalties and some bizarre off-the-field situations over contracts, bonuses, selection and tactics.
But all of that was forgotten for 120 sublime minutes when we experienced the reality of the beautiful game again. No stars, no prima donnas, no play acting, no gamesmanship. I ended up wanting USA to win, though Belgium were clearly superior. The effort of the Americans in the last ten minutes was incredible and deserving of some payback.
It would have been a just reward for their courage and endeavour, but I believe it would also be good for the sport if the Americans were a major force. They won't stand for the play-acting and antics that some of the South American and European players commit and they love positive, attacking - and fair - play.
And they might just bring some sanity and honesty to a game that has gone wildly off the tracks in these respects in recent decades.
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