- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

ULSAN, South Korea When it was finally over, they collapsed on the ground in exhaustion, Americans and Germans alike. Then the chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" began, and captain Claudio Reyna unfurled the Stars and Stripes for all of soccer to see.

Yes, the United States lost 1-0 to Germany yesterday, ending a magical World Cup ride. But the Americans left winners.

In a remote stadium on the southeastern tip of a land far from home, they proved they are no longer the pushovers of U.S. teams past. They sent a message to the rest of the world and left a calling card for 2006 and beyond.

"We got a lot further than anyone in the world thought we would," U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel said. "We surprised a lot of people. We didn't surprise ourselves.

"We can go home with our heads held high."

America didn't just hang on with a global soccer power, it shoved the bigger, taller Germans around in the quarterfinals. The United States outshot them 11-6 and had five great scoring chances, including two created by 20-year-old Landon Donovan, who showed he's among the world's top players.

"The Americans almost pulled us to the ground," said German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who made two great stops on Donovan and another on Eddie Lewis. "We had to give our all to win this game. It was amazing what fitness and power the Americans had."

Germany got its goal in the 39th minute when Michael Ballack outjumped two defenders in a crowd to head a free kick past Friedel.

"I thought I was going to be able to head it away," Tony Sanneh said. "I didn't jump high enough or get back enough. That's why we're going home and they're playing."

Not since the first World Cup in 1930 had the Americans done this well. Back then, it was an invitation-only tournament for 13 teams, and the United States won two games, then lost to Argentina 6-1 in the semifinals.

This time, they had to fight with 194 nations for a spot in soccer's showcase event, and they did better than France, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay, four of the seven nations to win a World Cup.

They went as far as England, the country that invented the sport. And they roused fans back home to get up in the middle of the night to watch their inspired play, perhaps finally convincing the soccer powers of Europe that football in the United States doesn't always mean the NFL.

"I think we demonstrated to the world that the United States belonged here," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "We expected to be the best team tonight. We weren't surprised at our performance."

Germany needed some luck early in the second half to keep its lead. A shot by Gregg Berhalter bounced off a diving Kahn and bounced partially over the goal line, where it hit the left arm of defender Torsten Frings and bounced back to Kahn, who smothered it.

But Scottish referee Hugh Dallas declined to call a penalty. The key was whether the ball hit Frings' hand or Frings' hand hit the ball.

"I don't want to be a sore loser, but that was a clear handball, and the referee should have given him a red card," Berhalter said.

Kahn, regarded as one of the world's top goalkeepers, was the difference all game, sending the three-time champion Germans to their 10th semifinal, their first since winning the title in 1990. The Americans put pressure on him all night.

"Many people thought it was going to be an easy game, but the U.S. has showed us what they were made of," Ballack said.

With only 90 seconds left in the game, the United States had another great chance when Sanneh just missed a goal on a header. He hit the side of the net off a cross from Clint Mathis.

In the first half, Donovan nearly put the Americans ahead in the 17th minute, turning around Thomas Linke, putting the ball through his legs and sending a low shot that a diving Kahn deflected wide with his fingertips.

"When I hit it, I thought it was in," Donovan said. "His hand came out of nowhere."

Kahn stopped Donovan off a pass from Reyna in the 30th minute, getting his right hand on a shot by the forward, who was isolated 1-on-1.

"There's no doubt about it that he saved our lives in the first half many times," Germany coach Rudi Voeller said.

Lewis had another chance about five minutes later when Brian McBride dribbled up the side and passed to Donovan, who then centered. Kahn came up big again.

"We were unfortunate and threw away a lot of chances," Donovan said.

Four years ago, the Americans opened the World Cup with a 2-0 loss to the Germans in Paris and were pushed around like little boys. This time, the Americans matched shove for shove.

Reyna even got some payback on Jens Jeremies, who kneed him in the back early in the 1998 game. In the 68th minute, after some shoving before a free kick, Reyna stomped on Jeremies' left leg as they got up, earning a yellow card.

But the pair exchanged friendly words and pats on the back after the game. It was proof of the Americans' coming of age.

"I think, in general, we showed we weren't going to take anything from them," Reyna said, a black mark under his left eye.

When the final whistle blew, Donovan couldn't believe it. He wanted one more chance to get even, to show the world how far the United States has come.

As exhausted players from both teams lay flat on their backs, Donovan could only think about what might have been.

"I didn't want to leave," he said.

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