I used to believe that the true character of international soccer could be found in the fake-injury phenomenon.
You know what I'm talking about -- a player gets knocked down, writhes in pain, appears to be in need of last rites and then, a few minutes later, miraculously gets to his feet and returns to action.
Happens about five times a game.
But something has changed during the current World Cup. If a snapshot could be taken to sum up the tournament, it would be of a player with a horrified look on his face. The look would seem to indicate he had just witnessed an airplane exploding in the air. The discerning observer would know that, in reality, the player had just been whistled for a minor infraction.
The theatrical feigned injury and the mix of facial expressions worthy of a Greek tragedy get very old, very fast, especially when the score is 0-0 and in no hurry to change.
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The pursuit of excellence is a tired phrase in America, applied to everything from funeral directors to luxury cars.
But how else to describe the exhausted Americans sprinting forward in those final seconds of that incredible U.S. victory in theWorld Cup on Wednesday?
They were spent after sprinting mile after mile for 92 minutes on that South African field, needing a goal to win or be sent home.
They were reeling, lungs bursting, time running out and still a pack of them ran forward. Not one or two, but four and more behind, sprinting desperately on dead legs.
They were in pursuit of excellence.
And they caught it.
By defeating the Algerians 1-0 on a goal by American star Landon Donovan, the U.S. soccer team gave its fans one of the most dramatic wins in history. When ESPN caught up with Donovan, he was weeping, hands covering his face.
He was asked about amazingly bad calls that cost the U.S. two goals in the past two games.
"You know what? Like I said last week, we embody what Americans are about," Donovan said. "We can moan about it or we can get on with it, and we kept going. We believe, man. We're alive."
When he talked about Americans never giving up, I knew it was true. And I bit my lip so the guys in my office watching the game wouldn't see my reaction.
Joining me in my workspace, watching TV, was Tony the Albanian Guy, my new soccer friend, and Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis, just coming to the game.
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