World Cup Roundup: ... That Our Flag Was Still There

Hey, John Boye broke Clint Dempsey's nose! That's not okay, dude. - Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

USA survives Altidore, Besler first-half injuries, Dempsey's broken nose to grit out opening win; Germany purees Portugal's; Iran & Nigeria stare at each other for 90 minutes

From the beginning, Americans have favored simple fortitude. It's right there in the anthem; after the horrors of the shelling, after a day-and-night battle (the song evokes), we are stirred by ... victory? enlightenment? No. We are stirred that the flag remains. The flag, you might say, abides.

Which is why we Americans can look at yesterday's scruffy 2-1 win over Ghana and not brood on what wasn't there. No, the USA couldn't find a way to keep the ball against the Black Stars; no, Michael Bradley was not good on the day. We didn't suddenly become favorites to advance because of this result; wounded, gifted Portugal and a truly terrifying Germany still lie athwart our path.

When the sun came up, though, the flag was still there. Jozy Altidore went down clutching his hamstring 20 minutes in, then Matt Besler 20 minutes later - two lockdown starters lost by halftime. Clint Dempsey followed up the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history by having his nose smeared liberally across his left cheek; in postgame interviews he looked like a living portrait by Picasso, Deuce rendered as man one could somehow see from multiple angles at a glance. The USA gave up 21 shots and only fired eight in response. But the flag was still there. We won; we exult; we'll take it.

The USA abides.

Germany 4, Portugal 0

Some teams seem destined to play out, eternally, the role of frustrated little brother, never quite up to it, always choking on frustration as big brother clowns them. Portugal, since its 'golden generation' came of age in the late 90s, has been one of them. The heralded group of Rui Costa, Luis Figo, João Pinto and Nuno Gomes were torched in the opening game of the '02 Cup by the USA's young guns; the Portuguese might well look upon that opening game warmly after enduring a shatteringly total domination by this terrifyingly calm and skillful German side.

Die Mannschaft, on the other hand, must resist the temptation to consider the group stage a done thing. While Ghana seems unlikely to pose any difficulty at a team level, the Black Stars certainly have individuals capable of upsetting the established order. Expect Germany's approach against Ghana to resemble the USA's - score early and don't be afraid to settle back into two defensive banks. On the evidence of the first game, through, everyone else in the group is playing for second place.

Iran 0, Nigeria 0

Oh, unadventurous tactical stalemate full of quarter-chances and wayward passes, how we've missed you.

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