When all was said and done, a jubilant United States forward Brian McBride and his teammates faced the crowd at Suwon Stadium today and soaked in a bit of history.
On a day when the threat of rain couldnt dampen Americas enthusiasm, the U.S. poured in three first-half goals and made them stand up for a 3-2 World Cup victory over heavily-favored Portugal.
It was only the fifth U.S. victory in World Cup history and set up Mondays crucial Group D showdown with host South Korea, which made history Tuesday with its first World Cup victory, a 2-0 win over Poland.
U.S. Coach Bruce Arena measured his words carefully afterward, crediting Portugal with a game well-played. U.S. players, unaccustomed to the position, looked joyous and shocked while trying to put the victory into perspective.
We took advantage of our chances, McBride said. We bunkered in and held them off.
McBride, who scored what turned out to be the game-winner in the 36th minute, said afterward that it was important for the U.S. to strike quickly and that it did against the veteran Portugal team, which scored more goals in qualifying than any other European team. The three first-half goals were the most that a U.S. team has scored in this tournament in 72 years and marked the first time that the U.S. has held such an advantage.
John OBrien, one of six U.S. players making their World Cup debuts, scored just four minutes in, slapping a rebound into the net that followed an Earnie Stewart corner kick. The Americans got another in the 29th minute when a shot by Landon Donovan deflected off Portugals Jorge Costa.
McBride made it 3-0 in the 36th minute,, heading a cross from Tony Sanneh through the pipes.
The ball got wide to Tony, McBride said. I took a step to the near post and lost my defenders.
Portugal, a semifinalist at the European Championship two years ago, is the worlds fifth-ranked team, led by a Golden Generation headed by Luis Figo, the worlds top player in 2001. The Portuguese, making their first World Cup appearances in 16 years, made it close after their difficult start, but tired badly in the final minutes.
Portugal quickly regrouped and scored in the 39th minute off a corner kick by Figo. Figos kick went to Beto, who headed the ball. OBrien tried to clear it, but the ball bounced back to Beto, whose second shot beat Friedel.
American defender Jeff Agoos, finally making his World Cup debut at age 34, made it even tighter in the 71st. He tried to clear a cross by Pauleta with his left leg, but instead kicked the ball past Brad Friedel, his own goalkeeper.
But the U.S. team held on, despite intense pressure from Portugal, which controlled the midfield and pressed throughout the second half, when the Americans often had just one or two players past midfield.
At the end of the game, after killing much of the last five minutes with time-wasting, U.S. players ran out onto the field and jumped into each others arms.
Four years ago, the Americans lost to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia in the first round and took a major step backward from 1994, when they were host of the tournament and advanced to the second round.
With todays win, they head into their remaining first-round games against co-host South Korea and Poland with a good chance to advance. Even before the game, which started at 2 a.m. PDT, American fans showed just how far the sport has come in the United States. Several hundred from Sams Army, the teams support group, greeted the Portuguese with chants of Overrated! Moments before the second American goal, they were chanting Adios Amigos!
While the U.S. team is obscured in its nation by the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals, the Belmont Stakes and Mike Tysons fight against Lennox Lewis, the Portuguese looked as if they were playing with the weight of their nation on their shoulders. When Pauleta, the forward who led the French League in scoring, missed a chance in just the 22nd minute, he grimaced and bit the top of his uniform jersey.
The American team entered the game 1-8-1 since returning to the World Cup in 1990 following a 40-year absence, including 0-6-1 against European nations. The United States had lost five straight since a 2-1 victory over Columbia in 1994 at the Rose Bowl