Reporting from Rustenburg, South Africa -- It was one of the best moments of Clint Dempsey’s career. And one of the worst of Robert Green’s life
It made one a hero, the other a goat.
Yet it all started rather normally with the ball leaving Dempsey’s left foot, softly skipping off the grass as it headed toward Green’s safe embrace. Even Dempsey turned away, knowing England’s goalkeeper would make the easy save.
Then both players’ lives changed in an instant.
Rather than rolling into Green’s arms, the ball bounced off his hands and wobbled behind him, barely crossing the goal line but far enough to give the U.S. an improbable 1-1 tie with England in the World Cup opener for both teams Saturday.
“It’s a shot you think the keeper will make a save on,” Dempsey said with a smile. “But at the same time I’ll take it.”
A few feet away a downcast Green was trying to be a stand-up guy.
“I take responsibility for my performance,” he said in a whisper. “I’ve made mistakes in the past. I know that I’m going to get flak for it. So be it.
“When you’re playing football and you’re playing well, stuff like that is easy. It’s the tough times that you deal with.”
Did the unpredictable Adidas Jabulani ball take a bad hop?
“No one is pointing a finger at him,” Green’s teammate Frank Lampard said. “These balls are moving about.”
Even Dempsey offered him an out.
“These balls move everywhere,” he said. “And they’re tough to deal with.”
Green was having none of that though.
“It may well have done [so]. I don’t often miss a ball by that much,” he said. “But it’s not an excuse.”
For Dempsey the goal was his second in World Cup play, making him only the second American to score in two World Cups — and the only U.S. player to score a World Cup goal in the last eight years.
And if he didn’t necessarily earn the goal, he certainly worked hard to get off the shot that produced it, bobbing and weaving through traffic and twice turning English midfielder Steven Gerrard around. That created enough space for Dempsey to get off a strong shot with his left foot, his weak side.
“With these balls and with these conditions, the more shots you have on target the better chance of one slipping in. And that’s exactly what happened,” U.S. defender Jay DeMerit said. “It was just a normal shot. But you put shots on target, sometimes they go in.”
And when they do, it’s sometimes hard to believe.
Dempsey said he turned away after taking the shot, then turned back to see the ball roll into the goal. Instinctively he started to celebrate — then stopped, not sure if he should believe what he had just seen.
“I was like, ‘Wait a second. Did the ref say this is a goal or not?’” he said.
He did. And just like that the U.S. had a tie and England had a result many players referred to as a loss.
“We all feel for Robert Green. Everyone knows what he’s going through because we’ve all made big mistakes in our careers,” said England’s Jamie Carragher.
But neither England nor Green gave the U.S. the game, Carragher quickly added
“No,” he said, waving away the suggestion. “The U.S. was very good.”