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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The End of an Empire - World Cup Stories

England v. United States 1950

There was once a time when England owned soccer. They had a national team thirty years before any other country outside of the British Isles. With residual imperiousness left over from the days of the Empire, England declined to enter the first three pre-World War II World Cups, believing it was merely a competition to determine the second-best team in the world.

In 1950, they finally decided to show up and were co-favorites with hosts Brazil. So confident were England that they let their best player Stanley Matthews join the team late. They won their first game and then took on a United States team of semi-pro players cobbled together from semi-pro leagues. On the U.S. team was Walter Bahr, long time Penn State soccer coach and father of Chris Bahr and brother Matt who became two of the first ‘soccer style’ place kickers in the NFL.

It soon became obvious to all in attendance that the game would end in a rout. Within the first twelve minutes, England had six clear goal-scoring opportunities, being denied twice by the post and once from a brilliant save by Frank Borghi, the American goalie. Then in the thirty-seventh minute, completely against the run of play, Joe Gaetjens glanced a floating cross off his head into the back of the English net. England renewed their assault on the American goal, but with the confidence of the lead the American defense stiffened. Despite a host more chances, England did everything but score and the largely Brazilian crowd rejoiced at the defeat of Brazil’s biggest perceived threat.

The game and the tournament had been largely ignored in England. Only one English reporter was present and he had to pay his own way. When the newspapers reported the score the following day everyone assumed there was a misprint and England had actually won 10-1. However the match has become a small part of American sports folklore with the recent movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played.

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