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U.S. advances despite loss to Poland
DAEJEON, South Korea -- Thanks to South Korea, the U.S. soccer team isn't packing for home just yet.
Needing merely a tie to advance, the Americans gave up two goals in the first five minutes against Poland on Friday and trailed by three goals with just 22 minutes left.
They were about to get knocked out of the World Cup in the first round for the second straight time, when the shocking news arrived from Incheon, 108 miles to the north:
South Korea had scored against Portugal. Suddenly, the Americans were back in.
And "back in" is exactly what they did.
The United States found a goofy way to advance to the second round, flopping to Poland 3-1 but finishing second in its group because South Korea held on for a 1-0 victory over the fifth-ranked Portuguese.
The Americans play Mexico on Monday, their first second-round game since 1994's 1-0 loss to Brazil.
"We owe a lot to Korea today," said U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who saved a penalty kick for the second straight game. "Days like this, it's better to be lucky than good."
Emmanuel Olisadebe and Pawel Kryszalowicz scored in the first five minutes, and Marcin Zewlakow added a goal in the 66th, just a minute after entering the game.
"I think everybody, including myself, had the feeling that we were done," midfielder Earnie Stewart said.
But then, two minutes later, a roar erupted from the crowd of 26,482 in three-quarters full Daejeon World Cup Stadium. Park Ji-sung had scored for the Red Devils.
And when he did, the portable radios, TVs and cell phones -- many set to beep when South Korea scored -- all went off.
"I heard the crowd go nuts. I assumed a goal for South Korea," Landon Donovan said. "I didn't want to hope for it and have it not happen."
But it did, and then came 20 tense minutes when what mattered on this field meant little, and what happened in another game, in another part of the country, meant everything.
Four days earlier, the U.S. team was the enemy of South Korean soccer, an obstacle in the Red Devils' path. But now, the Americans' hopes were dependent on a South Korean win.
When the South Korea game ended, the crowd roared again. Players weren't sure whether the Red Devils had scored again or whether South Korea had won.
"There was a guy two rows deep who jumped up," forward Brian McBride said. "I said, 'Oh my God, it must be true!' "
Some of the U.S. players held their hands to their heads in disbelief. Their game went on for another 3 minutes, 35 seconds, as both sides kicked the ball back and forth, knowing it was meaningless.
France and Argentina, two of the top world powers, may be gone from this upset-filled tournament, but the United States is among the final 16.
"It's crazy, huh?" McBride said. "It's going to be a battle."
So even though they failed to tie a team that already was eliminated, one that started five players making their World Cup debuts, the Americans will go on to play the Mexicans, the team they know best.
"A lot of teams got through with a bit of luck. Italy, one of the best teams in the world, got through with luck, so we'll take it. We're happy," U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said.
Portugal was down to nine players following the ejections of Joao Pinto in the 27th minute and Beto in the 66th. The Portuguese pressed, and Sergio Conceicao even sent a volley against the goalpost in the final minute, but their Golden Generation couldn't pull it out, leaving their reputation forever tarnished.
The Americans began the tournament with a stunning 3-2 upset of Portugal, but it's been downhill from there. They wasted a 78th-minute lead in a 1-1 tie with South Korea, then floundered Monday,
Players didn't celebrate, but they weren't sullen, either.
"It's a great, great day for U.S. soccer, a very lucky day for U.S. soccer," Friedel said.
South Korea (2-0-1) won the group with seven points, the United States (1-1-1) was second with four and Portugal (1-2) was third with three, ahead of Poland (1-2) on goal difference.
"If we had lost the first game, tied the second and won this, we would have been elated," said Donovan, who scored in the 83rd minute off a pass from Clint Mathis.
Poland's first goal, just 2 minutes, 45 seconds in, came when defender Jeff Agoos missed an attempted header to clear Jacek Krzynowek's corner kick. Olisadebe headed it off U.S. midfielder John O'Brien, then kicked the rebound in off the bottom of the crossbar.
Less than 60 seconds later, Donovan outjumped Arkadiusz Glowacki to head the ball in, but Chinese referee Lu Jun disallowed it, claiming Donovan pushed the Pole.
"I don't think I'm strong enough to foul that guy,"' the 5-foot-8 Donovan said.
Poland then rushed upfield, and Kryszalowicz scored from inside the 6-yard box, beating Agoos to a pass from Krzynowek.
"You wait all day for this moment and in the first five minutes blow it," Stewart said. "It's very painful."
Agoos, doubtful for Monday after leaving in the 36th minute with a strained right groin, was one of the last cuts from the 1994 World Cup roster and burned his uniform then. This time, he's been burned five times, in the center of four of the six goals allowed by the United States and causing a penalty kick.
But Friedel was outstanding again. He made a brilliant leg stop on Krzynowek in the 30th, and dived to his left to deny Maciej Zurawski's penalty kick in the 76th minute after Tony Sanneh's foul on Kryszalowicz.
U.S. players, meanwhile, resorted to taking long shots, almost as if they were trying for a 3-pointer that would get them back in it.
"It was like we wanted to score two goals in one shot," Stewart said.
It turned out none of it mattered.
"We're into the second round," defender Eddie Pope said. "A lot of very good teams aren't in the second round, they're going home, but we're still here."
Notes: D Frankie Hejduk got his second yellow card of the first round and will be suspended for the Mexico game. DaMarcus Beasley, in a switch, could see time at left back. ... Opponents have failed to convert four straight penalty kicks against the United States in the World Cup, starting with Czechoslovakia and Italy in 1990. ... Joe-Max Moore, who replaced McBride in the second half, made his 100th international appearance.