Sao Paulo: One fan installed Tim Howard as the next US Secretary of Defense on Twitter. Actor Tom Hanks went a step ahead to call the American goalkeeper “god” on the micro-blogging site. Howard epitomised USA’s fighting spirit against Belgium in the round of 16 at Salvador on Tuesday. He is the talk of a country in which football is a fifth team sport in popularity behind American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey.
Howard pulled off 15 saves, a record in the World Cup since goalkeeping statistics came into vogue in 1966, to keep the US in the race for a place in the quarterfinals. It looked as if the Everton goalkeeper was reprising the role of Atlas on a football field as he repelled tidal waves of Belgian attack. He was solely responsible for taking the match to extra-time.
The 20th edition of the Fifa World Cup has helped goalkeepers grab the headlines for all the right reasons. The tribe that invariably bears the cross for defeats is having a whale of a time in Brazil. Barring an Iker Casillas here and an Igor Akinfeev there, goalkeepers of all teams have acquitted themselves admirably here.
Understandably, Howard was the toast of America. From Barack Obama to a bartender, he has wowed all with his heroics between the sticks. US coach Jurgen Klinsmann heaped praise on the goalie. “What Tim did was phenomenal. He kept us in the game for a long time,” he added.
However, Howard wasn’t ready to soak in the plaudits. He was more concerned about the 2-1 defeat. “We dreamed and fell short of the dream. It’s heartbreaking,” he said after the match, his face still dripping with the sweat of his toil on the field. He added that none of his saves mattered to him as his team had lost.
The US have earned world-wide respect and a legion of new fans for their ebullient performance throughout the World Cup. Three out of their four matches were thrillers here. They became thrillers only because of the dogged determination of Klinsi’s army. It was at the World Cup in Brazil 64 years ago the USA had first grabbed centre stage by upsetting England 1-0 and the land of samba has once again provided a platform for the soccer country to prove that can play football as well as others.