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WORLD CUP QUARTERFINALS * GERMANY 1, U.S. 0

Not All Is Lost for U.S.

Soccer: Tested throughout, Germany and goalkeeper Kahn work hard to make Ballack's goal in 39th minute stand up as Americans walk away with a measure of satisfaction.

June 22, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ULSAN, South Korea — One goal was all that separated the United States from soccer history here Friday night. One goal, nothing more.

All it took was a first-half header by Michael Ballack off a free kick by Christian Ziege--a play that took all of 10 seconds to complete--to give Germany a 1-0 victory over the U.S. and a place in the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.

For the other 89 minutes and 50 seconds, the Americans played the Germans on even terms. The U.S. was perhaps even a shade better. And it came within inches of tying the score.

At the end, when referee Hugh Dallas of Scotland blew the final whistle to signal the close of a remarkable World Cup run by the U.S., it was the German players who collapsed to the turf in relief. They knew that they had been tested to the fullest.

"We're disappointed because we thought we could have won," said U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel. "But that's why they're so good. They can play games like this and win when maybe they're not the best team.

"The satisfying thing is knowing that we could have gone a little further. It's frustrating, but it's satisfying as well. We can go home with our heads held high."

Germany, winner of the World Cup in 1954, 1974 and 1990, is the first to admit that its 2002 team is not as strong as past German sides. Nevertheless, it will be playing the winner of today's quarterfinal between Spain and South Korea in the semifinals on Tuesday.

That's if the players can recover in time. By the end of Friday night's match in front of 37,337 at the Munsu Football Stadium, they looked utterly spent.

The Americans ran at them all night but were unable to find a way to beat goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who came up with some key saves but also enjoyed a measure of good fortune.

Kahn was the difference in the game, the U.S. players and coaches agreed, and at the end he was one of several who was stretched out on the grass.

"I was absolutely exhausted," he said. "You shouldn't underestimate how stressful a match can be for goalkeepers, because we cannot run, we just stand there. The mental stress on a goalkeeper is immense."

As he has done throughout the tournament, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena threw a few wrinkles into his starting lineup, leaving expected starters DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Mathis on the bench and bringing Frankie Hejduk back into the lineup after he had missed the second-round victory over Mexico because of suspension.

Arena even moved players around. Instead of being at left back, for example, Hejduk was in right midfield. Claudio Reyna, who had played right midfield against Mexico, was shifted to the center.

"I'm proud of my boys," Arena said. "We demonstrated to the world that the U.S. deserved to be here. We've made a lot of progress since 1998."

The U.S. lost all three games at the France '98 World Cup and was ousted in the first round, but this time it finished with a 2-2-1 record and advanced further in the tournament than at any time since 1930.

"Overall, the Germans had two chances in the match and converted one of them," Arena said. "That's the difference today."

The first half was an intriguing affair, played at a good pace and with both teams creating scoring chances.

"We came out there and got after the German team, which was our game plan," Arena said.

Eddie Lewis, a dynamo all night, forced Kahn to look lively in punching away a dangerous cross early on; Tony Sanneh caused panic in the German defense with an overlapping run, and Landon Donovan narrowly missed putting the U.S. ahead when he beat midfielder Dietmar Hamann and then cut inside defender Thomas Linke before firing a low, angled shot that Kahn appeared to barely touch as it flashed just outside the left post.

The U.S., which outshot Germany, 11-6, should have scored in the 36th minute when Brian McBride made a run down the left before crossing the ball to Donovan, who played it back into the path of Lewis. The former UCLA player's shot brought a fine reaction save from Kahn.

Friedel had no such luck two minutes later, however, when Germany grabbed the lead. Lewis, was called for a foul and Ziege floated the ball across the U.S. goalmouth. Ballack leaped and shouldered his way between defenders Sanneh and Gregg Berhalter and headed the ball powerfully downward from about six yards.

Friedel dived to his right, but a fraction of a second late, and the ball slipped beneath his arm and into the net, to the huge relief of the German bench.

In the second half, the Americans became increasingly physical, and Reyna, Pablo Mastroeni and Berhalter all were cautioned by Dallas. Germany made some forays, but as the half ticked away, its players were content to protect their slender lead.

The closest the U.S. came to putting the ball in the net was five minutes into the second half when Germany had a lucky escape.

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