YOKOHAMA, Japan – The U.S. team wasted no time rebounding from the bottom of the soccer world.
The Americans scored in the fourth minute, led 3-0 by the 36th and held on for a stunning 3-2 victory over Portugal in the World Cup opener for both teams Wednesday.
“We came out quick,” said Brian McBride, who scored the winner with a powerful header. “They are a very good team, so we put the pressure on them. We took advantage of our chances and when they came on strong, we held them off.”
Portugal is ranked fifth in the world. The Americans were the worst team at the 1998 World Cup, and didn’t have offensive standouts Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis, both injured, on Wednesday.
But from the beginning at Suwon, South Korea, the U.S. team was the aggressor. With John O’Brien’s early goal, they already had matched their scoring total in ’98, when they lost all three first-round games, bickering all the way.
They didn’t stop producing after O’Brien left-footed in a rebound from close range. In the 29th minute, a shot by Landon Donovan deflected in off a defender.
Then McBride converted a cross from Tony Sanneh, and even the Americans were marveling at their lead.
“I think Portugal was the same way,” said O’Brien, one of six American starters making their World Cup debuts.
Portugal quickly got one back, then got a second-half own goal when defender Jeff Agoos deflected a cross past goalkeeper Brad Friedel. But the Portuguese ran out of gas and the folks back home who stayed up late or got up early to watch on television — the game began at 5 a.m. EDT — were rewarded.
“I think this victory will grab the attention of a lot of people in the United States,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.
Ireland grabbed some attention, too, with its last-minute goal for a 1-1 tie with Germany. The Germans seemed set to be the first team to advance to the second round, but Robbie Keane knocked home a backheaded pass from Niall Quinn after a long pass from Steve Finnan.
Keane celebrated with cartwheels as hundreds of Ireland fans cheered wildly in the stands at Ibaraki, Japan.
Ireland coach Mick McCarthy said, “We threw men forward and it paid off. I think we were the better side. The stats will back it up. We were the better team.”
They certainly were the happier team.
“I’m extremely angry and disappointed. When you’re 1-0 up with one minute to go and concede a goal, it hurts,” said German coach Rudi Voeller.
Russia beat Tunisia 2-0 at Kobe, Japan, getting goals five minutes apart by Egor Titov and Valery Karpin, the second on a penalty kick.
The two Americans and one Russian aboard the international space station were informed promptly of their teams’ victories.
“During the radio communication sessions, flight controllers told the crew of all the latest developments. And since the crew is made up of real soccer fans, the news was received more than happily,” Viktor Blagov, deputy director of Russian Mission Control said.
Brazil’s Rivaldo was fined $7,000 for faking an injury in the late stages of his team’s opening 2-1 victory over Turkey.
FIFA cracked down on Rivaldo under its “simulation” rule — pretending to have been fouled.
“I wasn’t worried about suspension,” Rivaldo said. “I was the injured party. I don’t even know why I was fined.
“In soccer, you have to be sly. It happens a lot and it will happen a lot in this World Cup,” he added.
In the latest effort to make it easier for fans to obtain tickets and boost attendance at first-round games, FIFA has decided to allow telephone sales.
Tickets returned after overseas fans were being offered on the Internet, but high demand was swamping FIFA’s Web site. Half the tickets still available for games in Japan and South Korea will be sold by telephone. In phone sales for two games Wednesday and one Thursday in Japan, thousands of tickets were snapped up in minutes.