WORLD CUP ’90 : U.S. Can’t Beat Odds, Loses, 5-1 : World Cup: Czechoslovakia easily wins first-round match. Once again, Caligiuri scores the only American goal.
For those sports fans who complain that soccer does not have enough scoring, the United States’ opening game Sunday in the World Cup against Czechoslovakia was made to order.
Only six goals were scored in the first four games of the monthlong tournament. There were as many in this game.
But it could hardly have been entertaining for the 33,266 fans at Communale Stadium. Quantity did not translate into quality as the United States contributed only one of the goals in a 5-1 loss, a score that did not do justice to the Czechs.
To the United States’ credit, its goal was as nifty as any that is likely to be scored in the World Cup.
Forward Bruce Murray passed a ball through the defense to midfielder Paul Caligiuri, who beat his man in the midfield for a breakaway that left him one-on-one with goalkeeper Jan Stejskal.
Caligiuri, the Diamond Bar native who scored the goal last November against Trinidad and Tobago that, for better or worse, put the United States into the World Cup, faked a shot that left Stejskal sprawling, then dribbled around him for a right-footed shot from about 12 yards out into an open net.
That did little to change the complexion of the game. The United States was still trailing, 3-1, with only 30 minutes remaining. But it might have startled the London bookmakers, who were laying long odds against the United States even scoring a goal in its three first-round games.
The bookmakers, however, still look pretty good in making the United States the longest shot of the 24 teams to win the World Cup. Pick a number. The odds have ranged between 600-1 to 50,000-1.
“The frustrating thing about it is that we’ve made the oddsmakers look like kings,” U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola said.
They also made the Czechs look like kings, although they might prefer a more egalitarian description.
Czechoslovakia is a democratic country now, having held its first free election last week in almost half a century. The Czech players dedicated this game to Vaclav Havel, the playwright-philosopher turned president.
For the U.S. players, all of whom have attended college, this game should have brought to mind another literary figure, Dante Alighieri. He wrote his poem, “Dante’s Inferno,” after being exiled from his native Florence in 1302 for his political convictions.
The Czechs put the U.S. players through all 12 rings of hell. They were not as fast, as quick, as strong, as skilled or as experienced.
Retaliating because Jozef Chovanec stepped on his foot, midfielder Eric Wynalda of Westlake Village put him on the ground with a shove in the back. The foul was spotted by Swiss referee Kurt Roethlisberger, who ejected him from the game with a red card.
With 38 minutes remaining, the United States, already down, 3-0, had to play with only 10 men because players who have been disqualified cannot be replaced.
“Any time you play 10 men down, it’s a problem,” Caligiuri said.
He meant one man down. It just looked like 10.
For the Czechs, it was target practice. They took 23 shots, eight more than Cameroon and Argentina combined for in Friday’s opening game. The United States had seven shots.
“When there were about 10 minutes left, I was thinking, ‘C’mon, blow the whistle,’ ” defender Desmond Armstrong said. “They were just doing things at will, to the point that it seemed like they could score a goal whenever they wanted.”
Anyone who wonders how it could get any worse for the United States has only to wait until Thursday night, when it plays Italy in Rome.
The luckiest American might be Wynalda, who automatically received a one-game suspension with the red card.
“We were hoping for at least a tie,” Caligiuri said, “and we lose, 5-1, against a team that . . .” He did not have to finish the sentence.
“Italy is good,” he said, a deliberate understatement.
Because the winner of Group A, which also includes Italy’s 1-0 Saturday victim, Austria, might be determined by goal differential, the Italians cannot afford to let up against the United States because of the Czechs’ barrage.
It began in the 26th minute, when center-forward Tomas Skuhravy beat the United States’ John Stollmeyer to ball in the midfield and passed to Lubomir Moravcik, who gave the ball back to Skuhravy in the penalty area on a give-and-go.
Meola tried to cut down the angle, saying later that he had a better chance to save this one than any of the others, but Skuhravy beat him with a shot into the center of the net.
Although it was apparent early that the U.S. players were outclassed in virtually every aspect of the game, they did not appear to let it discourage them until the 40th minute, when sweeper Mike Windischmann fouled Ivan Hasek in the penalty area.
That set up a penalty kick by Michal Bilek, who converted with a hard shot into the left corner of the net.
“I didn’t see the replay, but I guess I nicked him (Hasek) in some way,” Windischmann said.
It cost the United States not only a goal but also one of its most reliable players in Windischmann, who was present only in body for the remainder of the game.
“He was unnerved after the penalty kick,” U.S. Coach Bob Gansler said. “Obviously, that weighed heavy on his conscience.”
As the captain, Windischmann’s attitude spread through the team.
Many said they felt defeated when they entered the locker room at halftime.
It would get worse. Five minutes into the second half, Meola dived face-first into the right post while making a save. Still groggy, Meola was not able to get in front of Hasek’s header moments later after a corner kick that gave the Czechs a 3-0 lead.
Caligiuri’s goal temporarily revived the Americans’ spirits, but Skuhravy’s second goal after another corner kick in the 79th minute buried them. Milan Luhovy tossed on the dirt with another goal in the final minute.
Only one minute earlier, Meola had prevented another Czech score when he saved a penalty kick by Bilek after defender Steve Trittschuh’s foul against Hasek in the box.
Instead of booming the penalty kick, Bilek tried to float it past Meola. The U.S. goalkeeper, still suffering from a headache after his crash into the post, thought Bilek was trying to embarrass him.
“I had a feeling the guy was going to try to do me somehow,” Meola said. “Maybe he learned his lesson.”
If so, it was the only one the United States taught the Czechs.
“They played very fair and with determination,” Czech Coach Josef Venglos said. “But maybe our team showed better experience. The Italian team and the Austrian team are much stronger than our opponent today.”
That is hardly news to Gansler, who acknowledged that his team is inferior to the next two opponents, Italy Thursday and Austria on June 19, but refused to wave a white flag.
“Is there a gulf?” he said in response to a question. “Yes. But it’s not as great as some of you might think.”
His greatest challenge at this World Cup will be to convince his team of that before Thursday.