[ WORLD CUP SOCCER ]
The Czech Republic's Jan Koller headed the ball past U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller just 5 minutes into yesterday's match, a 3-0 Czech victory at the Gelsenkirchen stadium in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
Czechs throttle U.S.
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany » The United States looked like a bewildered World Cup newcomer again.
The Americans didn't just lose last night, they were routed, roughed up and run over by the Czech Republic, a 3-0 crusher that put the Americans in danger of first-round elimination.
All times Hawaii time
» Australia 3, Japan 1
» Czech Republic 3, United States 0
» Italy 2, Ghana 0
» South Korea vs. Togo, 3 a.m.
» France vs. Switzerland, 6 a.m.
» Brazil vs. Croatia, 9 a.m.
» Spain vs. Ukraine, 3 a.m.
» Tunisia vs. Saudi Arabia, 6 a.m.
» Poland at Germany, 9 a.m.
» Italy vs. United States, 9 a.m.
"I think the players as well as coaches are a bit shocked right now," defender Eddie Lewis said.
Jan Koller, the Czech Republic's 6-foot-7 1/2 forward, scored just 5 minutes in, and Tomas Rosicky added goals in the 36th and 76th minutes.
The United States managed just one shot on goal and showed little of the spark that earned it an opening 3-2 upset over Portugal four years ago, when it advanced to the quarterfinals in America's best showing since 1930.
"We didn't play well. We didn't compete. We didn't make the plays," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller, one of many U.S. players criticized by coach Bruce Arena. "It was just a shame. We definitely gave the game away, and that's what we're frustrated about."
Landon Donovan and Brian McBride, the two U.S. forwards, didn't have any shots at all, and DaMarcus Beasley managed just one.
Arena rarely criticizes players publicly, but with a look of exasperation on his face, he didn't hold back.
"Landon showed no aggressiveness tonight," Arena said. "We got nothing out of Beasley on the night."
He said Bobby Convey, who made his World Cup debut, was one of the few Americans who had "the courage" to attack.
Donovan and Beasley were surprise sensations four years ago, when they were just 20, but they were marked men.
"They swarmed them," U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said.
The Americans got a pregame pep talk from President Bush, who called from Camp David and wished them well. But they undoubtedly disappointed millions back home and certainly the 5,000 or so fans who made the trek overseas, falling to 0-8 in Europe in World Cup play, getting outscored 24-4.
It could get worse. The Americans next play Saturday against three-time champion Italy, which opened with a 2-0 win over Ghana.
"We all have to learn quick, especially the young guys," Reyna said. "We can't wait months or years to get better. We have to get better quickly, and I think we can do that."
In the last two World Cups, the only team to advance from the first round after losing its opener was Turkey, in 2002.
"It's going to be hard, but it's not over," said Donovan, whose scoreless streak for the national team reached 16 games.
Reyna said the mind-set must change.
"Everyone has to be brave and want the ball," he said. "We didn't have guys aggressive enough."
Four years ago, the United States broke on top in its opener against Portugal in the fourth minute. This time, it was the Americans who fell behind quickly.
Keller sent a goal kick downfield, and the Czechs countered, with David Rozehnal playing the ball to the right flank for Zdenek Grygera and catching Lewis upfield. Grygera crossed, and Koller, who returned only last month from knee surgery, positioned himself between Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope.
"He shoved me a little bit in back, created space for himself," Pope said.
Rising above the defense like a redwood towering over shrubs, Koller easily bent his bald head to meet the cross and put the ball past Keller for his 43rd goal in 69 international appearances, a Czech record.
"Kasey, for whatever reason, puts it up the middle where we have nobody," a bewildered Arena said.
Keller was trying to find Convey for a quick attack.
Reyna, who hasn't scored for the national team since 2000, nearly tied the score in the 28th, curling a 25-yard shot that got by a diving Petr Cech in goal. Reyna had a hopeful look on his face, but his expression quickly changed to disgust when the ball clanked off the far post.
Just as the United States was starting to establish some offensive rhythm, the Czechs showed more of why they were a European Championship semifinalist two years ago and are the world's second-ranked team.
Pavel Nedved, Europe's player of the year in 2003, crossed and Onyewu headed the ball out. But it went to Rosicky, who settled it and sent a spectacular right-footed shot into the top corner to Keller's left, above the goalkeeper's raised right hand.
Koller injured his right thigh battling Onyewu for a ball on the flank in the 43rd minute, and was taken off on a stretcher, one hand behind his head, the other covering his face. He was taken to a hospital to be examined.
"I felt a strong pain, and I thought it was torn. I said to myself that all my efforts were just gone," Koller said. "I definitely won't be available for the next match."
Rosicky hit the crossbar in the 68th minute and added his second goal in the 76th, getting past the defense off a through pass from Nedved and chipping over Keller on a breakaway. Rosicky and Nedved pretty much ran through the midfield at will.
Eddie Johnson, who entered at halftime when the United States switched to a three-forward formation, missed just wide in the 70th minute and was high in the 76th.
"I was just trying to make something happen," he said.
When the Americans returned to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, they were embarrassed 5-1 by Czechoslovakia in their opener, getting outshot 24-7. Arena, who sat in the seats that day as a fan, didn't think this was as bad -- they were only outshot 10-6 in this one.
"Believe me, this wasn't 1990," Arena said.
Australia 3, Japan 1
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany » Tim Cahill scored in the 84th and 89th minutes and John Aloisi got a goal in injury time as Australia shocked Japan.
The Aussies didn't appear capable of even tying the game after falling behind in the first half. But Cahill equalized when he picked up a loose ball off a throw-in and beat Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi with a right-footed shot in the 84th minute. Kawaguchi erred in coming out of his net.
Five minutes later, with the Japanese clearly off-balance, Cahill scored from 20 yards with a right-footed shot that went in off the goalpost.
Although the stunned Japanese pushed up to try for a second goal, it was Australia's Aloisi who found the net in the final seconds from 15 yards after snaking through the defense.
Italy 2, Ghana 0
HANOVER, Germany » Andrea Pirlo, a player identified by Ghana as someone it needed to stop, scored in the 40th minute, and Vincenzo Iaquinta added a goal in the 83rd as Italy beat Ghana.
Pirlo's shot from 22 yards sneaked through a maze of bodies and into the corner of the net, one of many opportunities for both teams in an entertaining match. Ghana fell just short on a number of scoring chances and showed itself worthy of playing in its first World Cup.
The win may have been costly for Italy. Key playmaker Francesco Totti exited the game after apparently reinjuring his surgically repaired left leg in the second half. His status for Saturday's game against the United States is uncertain.