U.S. Men's Olympic Team Makes History, Advance to Quarterfinals for First Time With 3-1 Win over Kuwait
MELBOURNE, Australia (Tuesday, September 19, 2000) - The U.S. Men's Olympic Team left no doubt that they wanted to be the first team in U.S. Men's Team history to advance out of the first round of an Olympic competition, handing Group C over-achiever Kuwait a 3-1 thumping tonight in front of a cold, rain-soaked crowd of just under 20,000 at the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground.
With the momentous win, the U.S. accomplished what 11 teams before them had failed to do in Olympic Games dating back to the first U.S. entry in 1924 in Paris. But besides advancing to the quarterfinals, the U.S. won the group and finished with an undefeated record (one win and two ties).
Entering the game with just two points after hard-fought draws against the favored Cameroon and Czech Republic teams, the U.S. needed a big win against Kuwait and some help from the Czechs to win Group C. With only a 1-0 lead at halftime and Cameroon leading by the same margin in their match in Brisbane, it seemed the U.S. would have to be happy to advance as the group's runner-up, but two things happened that clinched the top spot for the young Americans.
With the U.S. leading 2-1 with less than five minutes to play, 18-year-old scoring phenom Landon Donovan (Redlands, Calif.; Bayer Leverkusen--Germany) one-timed a perfect pass from Josh Wolff (Stone Mountain, Ga.; Chicago Fire--MLS) to clinch a two-goal victory. The goal would be of prime importance, as it gave the USA a goal differential of +2 (plus two) in group play. With the Czech Republic coming back to tie the other match 1-1, Cameroon equaled the U.S. with five points, but only had a +1 (plus one) goal differential. Therefore, the U.S. team that began the day in third place leaped into first place with five points and a superior goal differential.
Almost frozen by the uncomfortable combination of unrelenting rain and bitter cold, the U.S. started the evening looking a bit sluggish. With the Kuwait side almost immediately reverting to a bunker defense and with the kind of slippery conditions that sometimes force a player take an extra touch on the wet ball, it took the U.S. team the better part of the half to break through.
The game changed in the 30th minute with the long-awaited and much-talked-about Olympic debut of former U.S. Under-17 scoring sensation Donovan, who replaced bruising forward Conor Casey (Denver, Colo.; Univ. of Portland). With the early substitution, the U.S. attack became more direct and resembled a 4-3-3, with Donovan in the middle as a withdrawn forward.
Whether coincidence or not, the U.S. would get that crucial first goal just six minutes later. U.S. "over-age" defender Jeff Agoos (Dallas, Texas; D.C. United--MLS) sent in a perfect in-swinging cross that 6'0" defender Danny Califf (Orange, Calif.; L.A. Galaxy--MLS) rose up to head home past 19-year-old Kuwait ?keeper Shehab Kankone, who came off his line too late and wasn't able to punch it clear.
The U.S. Under-23's pushed for another strike with the momentum going into the half, but could not add a safety goal. In what has become a familiar storyline, the U.S. entered the locker room dominating with a 10-2 edge in shots and a 8-0 advantage in corner kicks, but only with a slim 1-0 edge on the scoreboard.
Sensing at least another goal just around the corner, the U.S. squad immediately stepped things up in the second half. Within less than 10 seconds from the kickoff, midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena, Calif.; L.A. Galaxy) slid a ball to a streaking Chris Albright (Philadelphia, Pa.; D.C. United-- MLS), whose shot was high over the crossbar, but set the tone for the aggressive American attack.
In the 63rd minute, Albright would get the second U.S. goal of the night and his second of the tournament. Following a quick throw-in from Agoos, midfielder John O'Brien (Playa del Rey, Calif.; Ajax-Amsterdam) played a long ball down the left flank that Albright ran down near the endline. Just as he caught up to the pass, he deftly tucked it under the legs of a sliding Kankone and it rolled across the goalline for the 2-0 lead.
But just as the U.S. was getting comfortable and the clock showed less than 10 minutes to play, the counter-attacking Kuwait team struck back with a goal from second-half subsitute forward Najem Bader in the 83rd minute.
With Kuwait only needing a tie to advance out of the group after entering the day in second place, it became very apparent that they would now push for the equalizer during the last seven minutes. But this time it was the U.S. that took the opportunity to run soccer's version of a fast break, with Wolff sending a perfect through ball to Donovan, who cracked it into an open net in the 88th minute to clinch the important three-point result.
As the Group C winner, the U.S. Men's Olympic Team will now travel west to Adelaide, where they will await the runner-up from Group D for a match at Hindmarsh Stadium on Saturday (Sept. 23) at 8 p.m. local time. The match will be televised via tape delay in an Olympic coverage window from either 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET) on MSNBC or from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) on CNBC.
With Japan, Brazil, South Africa and Slokavia all set to play tomorrow night, the U.S. will have to wait another 24 hours to find out their quarterfinal opponent. Should the U.S. advance to the semifinal medal round, the team would be finally be making the trip to Sydney, where the team's final games will be played.
2000 U.S. MEN'S OLYMPIC TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Men's Olympic Team vs. Kuwait|
|Competition:||2000 Olympic Games - Opening Round, Group C|
|Venue:||Melbourne Cricket Ground (Melbourne, Australia)|
|Date:||September 19, 2000 - Kickoff 8 p.m. (local)|
|Weather:||62 degrees - Rainy, Cold|
USA - Danny Califf, (Jeff Agoos), 40,
USA - Chris Albright, (John O'Brien), 63,
KUW - Bader Najem (unassisted), 83,
USA - Landon Donovan, (Josh Wolff), 88.
USA - 1-Brad Friedel; 4-Jeff Agoos, 3-Chad McCarty (Capt.), 8-Danny Califf, 6-Frankie Hejduk; 5-John O'Brien, 10-Peter Vagenas, 11-Chris Albright, 9-Ben Olsen (7-Joey DiGiamarino, 62); 17-Conor Casey (13-Landon Donovan, 30), 16-Josh Wolff.
KUW - 1-Shehab Kankone, 3-Jamal Andulrahman, 17-Esam Alkandan, 13-Sadoun Slaman; 15-Salem Alburaiki, 12-Hamad Altayyar (2-Naser Alomran, 66), 8-Naser Alothman, 7-Adel Al-Anezi; 9-Bashar Abdulaziz (4-Bader Najem, 68), 10-Faraj Saeid, 14-Khalaf Almutairi.
|Peter Vagenas (caution)||27,|
|Bashar Abdulaziz (caution)||54.|