U.S. eliminated from men’s soccer tournament


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BEIJING --The width of a crossbar made all the difference in the world on Wednesday.

Had forward Charlie Davies’ last-minute header off a Dax McCarty free kick been just a couple of inches lower, the U.S. might have tied Nigeria and earned a place in the quarterfinals of the Olympic men’s soccer tournament.

But the ball clanged off the bar at the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing and rebounded away, taking with it American hopes as Nigeria survived to win the match, 2-1, in front of 48,096.


That result, combined with the Netherlands’ 1-0 victory over Japan, sent the Dutch and the Nigerians through to the last eight and ended U.S. participation in the tournament.

The American team’s hopes were dealt an early blow when defender Michael Orozco was ejected by German referee Wolfgang Starg for throwing an elbow into a Nigerian player just three minutes into the match. The foul occurred at midfield and was totally unnecessary.

The red card caused Coach Peter Nowak’s side to have to play short-handed for 87 minutes plus stoppage time. It was too great a wall to climb, even in China.

But the Americans gave it everything they had. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan was in phenomenal form, time and again making world-class saves.

There was nothing he could do about Nigeria’s two goals, however. The first came in the 39th minute when Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi, Nigeria’s liveliest player, got around defender Michael Parkhurst to the right of the American net and then provided the pass that left Promise Isaac with the simplest tap-in for the goal.

The second came in the 79th minute and again Parkhurst was the unfortunate victim, this time slipping and falling in the penalty area while trying to tackle the ball away from Victor Obinna, who curled a shot past Guzan at the far post.


The U.S., playing inspired soccer considering it was exhausted from having to make up for Orozco’s absence, managed to pull a goal back in the 88th minute on a penalty kick by Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan after Nigeria goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin had fouled Maurice Edu.

The Americans kept pressuring Nigeria in search of the tying goal that would have sent them into the quarterfinals at the expense of the Dutch, but their luck ran out when Davies’ header sailed just a little too high and hit the crossbar instead of the back of the net.

Overall, Nigeria outshot the U.S., 20-8, but it had only a 5-4 advantage in shots on target.

The U.S. finished with four points after defeating Japan, 1-0, and tying the Netherlands, 2-2, and while the team did not make it out of the group play, its performance in the tournament was worthy of a quarterfinal place.

-- Grahame L. Jones