RUSTENBURG, South Africa – England’s players couldn’t get off the field fast enough. The Americans lingered to savor the night.
They walked to the end of Royal Bafokeng Stadium where thousands of red, white and blue-clad fans were waving the Stars and Stripes and cheering their heads off.
Try convincing the U.S. team and its fans there wasn’t a winner in the 1-1 draw with mighty England.
“We’ll take more out of a draw than they will,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, the man of the match. “They’re going to feel like they should have won the game.”
Facing the Three Lions in the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, the United States rallied and then hung on for an instant boost in confidence that they could advance to the second round.
Clint Dempsey became only the second American to score in two World Cups, getting the tying goal in the 40th minute on a blunder by goalkeeper Robert Green. Howard made six saves in his World Cup debut, withstanding a second-half barrage by Wayne Rooney and his celebrated teammates.
“I think a lot of us came off the field satisfied with this result, but maybe a little disappointed we didn’t get more out of the game,” U.S. star Landon Donovan said.
Steven Gerrard put England ahead in the fourth minute, blowing past Ricardo Clark to beat Howard from short range. Dempsey tied it when Green fumbled his 25-yard shot that skipped off the ground twice, yet another mistake in a long line by English goalkeepers.
“Mentally we’re strong enough to get over it, and as a goalkeeper these things happen,” Green told Sky TV. “You prepare yourself for not letting it affect you.”
Anticipation had built for six months for the much-hyped game, the first competitive meeting between the nations since the famous 1-0 U.S. upset at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. There were viewing parties across America, and several Major League Soccer teams opened their stadiums to show the match from across the world on large video boards.
“I’m sure they were excited in bars back home. I can only imagine it was pretty intense,” Howard said. “We’re a resilient side, you know. We’re a tough side and on our day we can put a good performance in.”
Howard bruised his ribs when Emile Heskey’s foot slid into him in the 29th minute. He was down for a while, grimaced several times when play resumed and had a painkiller injection at halftime.
Then he saved the Americans time and again in the second half, frustrating the high-priced stars he faces each week when he plays for Everton.
Howard said the hit “felt like agony.” After the match, he felt sore and said he might need an MRI to make sure there isn’t any damage.
“Obviously, the adrenaline is pumping,” he said. “In a couple hours I’ll be struggling.”
Big defender Oguchi Onyewu played his first 90-minute game since rupturing a knee tendon in the last World Cup qualifier on Oct. 14. Forward Jozy Altidore, back from a sprained ankle, nearly put the U.S. ahead in the 65th minute, but Green got a hand on his angled shot and it deflected off the corner of the goal.
“A little unlucky,” the 20-year-old Altidore said after his World Cup debut.
With each save late in the game, louder chants of “U-S-A!” erupted from Sam’s Army and American Outlaws, groups who made the long and expensive trip from home to sit among the vuvuzela-blowing fans on a cool night in the Southern Hemisphere. The crowd of 38,646 included Vice President Joe Biden, who visited the U.S. locker room before kickoff. Some players skipped his greetings.
“I was getting taped,” captain Carlos Bocanegra said.
England must try to regroup as it seeks its first major title since winning the World Cup at home in 1966. The U.S., trying to rebound from first-round elimination four years ago, got a boost as it heads into first-round games against Slovenia on Friday and Algeria on June 23.
While not a shocking win to match 1950, the U.S. earned a huge single point in its quest to reach the second round for the first time since 2002.
Both sides started out tentative and nervous. England broke on top when Heskey took Glen Johnson’s throw-in and sent a through ball to Gerrard broke in as Clark couldn’t catch him and flicked it past Howard for his 17th goal in 82 appearances.
It continued a troublesome pattern for the Americans, who fell behind in three of their last four qualifiers before coming back for a draw or win.
“The funny thing is, we talk about, you know, don’t concede early,” Bocanegra said. “And man, it’s been our trademark lately, conceding early.”
Dempsey, who has become a key player for Fulham in England, scored on a play similar to the goal by Croatia’s Niko Kranjcar that went in off Scott Carson’s arm and helped eliminate England from qualifying from the 2008 European Championship.
Dempsey took several touches, spun around Gerrard and hit a dipping left-footed shot. The ball hit the field twice, glanced off Green’s right hand and went into the net for Dempsey’s 19th goal in 63 national team games. Dempsey, who also scored against Ghana as the U.S. was eliminated in 2006, matched Brian McBride in 1998 and 2002 as the only Americans to score in two World Cups.
“At the last second, it moved a little bit,” Dempsey said. “These balls move so much, you just hit them on goal, you have a chance.”
Howard made a point-blank stop on Heskey’s 18-yard right-footed shot in the 52nd minute and parried Lampard’s 20-foot left-footed shot over the crossbar in the 63rd. Rooney had a quiet night, failing to make good contact with a Gerrard cross while open on the side of the goal in the 76th minute. The ball glanced off his head and went harmlessly wide.
“It was a difficult game,” Gerrard said. “I think the important thing in the first game is not to lose. Unfortunately, we’ve let a poor goal in and we couldn’t go on and get the winner.”
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