Underdogs bite as well as bark

SOUTH KOREA'S fully merited 2-0 win over the plodding Poles, their first in 48 years of trying, was something of a surprise, in Busan: I was there. But nowhere near as much of a shock when - again I was lucky enough to see it - the following day, the unfancied USA beat mighty Portugal 3-2 in Suwon after building up a remarkable 3-0 lead. Did the USA deserve it? Overall, what did it matter? When the underdogs bite as well as bark, it is always good to see. The fact is that in the opening stages their attack simply took a wretched and inadequate Portuguese defence to pieces, and though they perhaps inevitably tired in the second half, when the Portuguese gained control, the truth remains that one of the goals the USA conceded was a sad own goal when poor Jeff Agoos, the veteran U.S. central defender, diverted the low cross from Pauleta past his own goalkeeper.

In fact that 'keeper, Brad Friedel, preferred to his close and just as effective rival, Kasey Keller, had only one major save to make in that second half when he threw himself at Jorge Costa's point blank shot and diverted it. By contrast the Americans in the first half made chance after chance and could well have had a couple of more goals even if one of theirs was a trifle fortuitous.

That was the one which came when that shaky Portuguese defence somehow contrived to leave young Landon Donovan quite free on the right flank. When he drove the ball into the middle it struck Jorge Costa and was diverted past Portugal's unconvincing goalkeeper Vitor Baia, who could only push it on to a post, when it entered the net. But that wasn't remotely the freak that Agoos' own goal was.

So was this the greatest victory in the history, the somewhat irregular history, of American soccer? Splendid as it was, and gloriously though it features such home grown youngsters as Donovan and the quick little black left winger, Da Marous Beasley, I must say no. That distinction must still belong to the amazing 1-0 USA victory over England in 1950 in the Brazilian World Cup in Belo Horizonte. On paper that looked an England team ready to eat USA alive. There was Tom Finney, Stan Mortensen, Wilf Mannion, Billy Wright and the gymnastic Bert Williams in goal. By sharp contrast, the Americans were what you might call a job lot; football nonentities all, the captain, Scot Eddie McIlvenny at right half, only just having been given a free transfer by Wrexham of the Third Division North.

Yet the only goal came when Walter Bahr the right half's cross cannoned past Bert Williams off the head of the Haitian born centre forward Joe Gaetjens, who poor soul would later be reportedly murdered in that blood soaked island by the Tons Tons Macoute. Afterwards, a jubilant American coach, a little Scot called Bill Jeffrey, announced. "This was all we needed to make the game go in the States." Alas, it wasn't. Hardly acknowledging the magnitude of the success, the great American public simply turned over and went to sleep. Just as it had done in 1930 when on the occasion of the first World Cup in Uruguay, the American team had actually reached the semi-finals. They consisted then chiefly of big heavy ex-professionals from Britain, dismissed by the French team as The Shot Putters, and in the semi-finals they crashed by seven goals to Argentina.

Around that time, in fact, there was a good deal, of soccer activity in New England around Fall River a little town which actually produced the talented USA left wing pair of John Ed Souza - no relations! The sad thing is that though soccer in the States is no longer what some intellectuals scornfully called an UnAmerican Activity, with tens of thousands of men, boys and women actually playing, it just doesn't spin off into a marketable spectator sport. Just now, the so called Major League Soccer, surely a grandiose misnomer, is down only to 10 teams, of which absurdly no fewer than five are owned by the billionaire Mr. Anschutz. He is surely above all suspicion but it wouldn't be allowed in any of the developed soccer countries.

As for the South Koreans, they began their game against the Poles with nervous haste, but the longer it went on, the more they realised that apart from the little Nigerian born Emmanuel Olisadebe, the Poles had no real pace, the more they took over the game. But for some fine second half saves by the Liverpool keeper, Jerzei Dudek, there must have been other goals. Not least, I was pleased to see, for the lively little Ahn, who came on as a vigorous substitute and whom I had seen last season playing with brio at the start of the Italian season, for Perugia against Lazio. Special applause too for the driving midfielder Yoo Sang Chul, who eventually scored the second Korean goal. A player of real dynamism. Europe, be alerted; he now plays in Japan for Kashiwa Reysol.