PARIS -- After four years of undeniable improvement, of encouraging results against top teams in lesser tournaments, the United States learned a sober lesson yesterday in a 2-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup. When it counts, the Americans' abilities have not yet caught up with their ambitions.
Except for an encouraging 10-minute stretch in the second half, the Americans were overpowered by the three-time world champions. The Germans proved to be bigger, stronger, better organized, more purposeful and more disciplined, and more willing to flex their considerable muscle.
"I think some of us were a little in awe," said midfielder Claudio Reyna.
Tab Ramos, who came on in the second half in midfield, said he had queasy flashbacks to the World Cups of 1990 and 1994, when the nervous, timid United States played not to lose, instead of to win. That fearful attitude was supposed to have been eradicated, now that all of the American players have experience playing in professional leagues.
"I don't think what we saw out there was a step forward for U.S. soccer," Ramos said. "We're not here to win the World Cup because we know that's not going to happen. But we're here to show that we've improved, and I don't think we did a good job of that."
In the very first minute, German midfielder Jens Jeremies set the tone by delivering a shot to Reyna's right kidney, sending him down for an eight-count. Every time Reyna touched the ball, the Germans tried to knock him off. Reyna was taken out of his game, and without a steady playmaker, the U.S. attack had little luck against the German press.
The United States did not have a shot on goal for the first 31 minutes. In the first half, it could not string together as many as three passes. Meanwhile, a goal by German midfielder Andy Moeller sent the Americans backpedaling eight minutes into the game.
The Germans worked the ball around from side to side, stretching the Americans until they spotted a rip in a defensive seam.
"In the first half, we were always a step slow," Reyna said. "We exerted so much energy moving without the ball, when we got it we were tired. We had no energy."
Mike Burns, who plays hard but is a defender masquerading as a midfielder, was overmatched on the right wing and was replaced by Frankie Hejduk at halftime. Eric Wynalda appeared rusty and unassertive at forward, playing his first significant minutes since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery two months ago. He, too, was relieved in the second half, by Roy Wegerle.
The opener was supposed to be the optimum time to face Germany, which traditionally starts slowly and builds throughout the World Cup. And the Americans were quite familiar with the opponent, given that eight members of the team play or have played in the German Bundesliga.
But familiarity did nothing to bridge the gap between these teams. Germany is here to win a fourth World Cup, while the Americans are still essentially here to win respect.
"I think nerves got to us in the first half," Hejduk said. "A lot of people were nervous out there. They came out hard and strong and we weren't ready for that."
"We needed to match them physically, and we didn't do that in the first 20 minutes," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who said the Americans might have been made too shy by warnings that rough play would not be tolerated by the referees. "If you can't match them physically, you're in a lot of trouble."
The one thing the Americans did not want to do was to surrender an early goal. But eight minutes into the game, Germany's
Juergen Klinsmann split David Regis and Ernie Stewart and headed a corner kick to Moeller, who was left unmarked in front of the goal. Burns stood on the goal line, apparently in perfect position for a deflection, but Moeller's header somehow slithered between his hip and the post.
"It was a fluke goal," Burns said. "It was an awkward spot; I couldn't control it with my chest or my hips. It was like the ball had eyes."
The Americans nearly tied the game during the 54th minute when Regis lifted a cross to Hejduk, who launched a diving header. Only a diving reach by goalie Andreas Kopke kept the ball out of the net.
That was it for the American surge. Ten minutes later, Germany struck again on a counterattack. Oliver Bierhoff sent a crossing pass from the right flank to Klinsmann, who freed himself when Thomas Dooley jumped too early. Klinsmann chested the ball 10 yards out and blasted a shot for his ninth goal in three World Cups.
"In the first half, we showed them a little too much respect," said Dooley. "We showed in the second half we don't have to be afraid. I hope and believe we will show it in the next two games."
The Americans will go home if they cannot defeat Iran on Sunday in Lyon, and Yugoslavia on June 25 in Nantes in their two other first-round games.
Romania 1, Colombia 0: Adrian Ilie's 15-yard chip shot in injury time at the end of the first half was the only goal in Lyon.
Ilie outmaneuvered defender Maurizio Serna and launched the ball over advancing goalkeeper Farid Mondragon.
England 2, Tunisia 0: Alan Shearer scored late in the first half and Paul Scholes late in the second in Marseille.
Nearly all of England's quality shots came in the final 15 minutes of the first half.
Results: Germany 2, U.S. 0 England 2, Tunisia 0 Romania 1, Colombia 0
Yesterday's stars: Paul Scholes, England, had a strong game at midfield and scored the clinching goal on a curving 25-yard shot in the final minutes against Tunisia. Adrian Ilie, Romania, seemed to roam the field at will for most of his team's victory over Colombia, and he scored the only goal at the end of the first half. Juergen Klinsmann, captain of the German team, set up one goal and scored the other.
History: Pele celebrated the 40th anniversary of his World Cup debut. On June 15, 1958, the Brazilian great made his first DTC appearance in the tournament, as his team beat the Soviet Union, 2-0, in Goteburg, Sweden. He did not score in the game but helped lead Brazil to the first of his three world championships.
Violence: More than 60 Englishmen, Tunisians and Frenchmen were sent to jail after clashing with police and each other in Marseille. Two postal workers from Liverpool were jailed for three months for inciting Sunday's violence and burning a car, and 36 people were hospitalized. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain denounced the troublemakers as a "total disgrace" and said he fully backs the actions of the French authorities.
Look ahead: Defending champion Brazil, coming off an unimpressive opening victory against Scotland, takes on Morocco in Nantes. The Brazilians hope to find openings for their star, two-time player of the year Ronaldo, while dealing with Morocco's formidable speed. The Moroccans, coming off a 2-2 tie with Norway, must go with two starters nursing injuries: captain Noureddine Naybet (leg) and midfielder El-Moustafa Hadji (fractured toe).
Quotable: "I don't want to hear any kind of examination of whether these people had bad childhoods, or were dropped on their heads when they were kids. I've seen football hooligans myself. I notice that they always have a huge amount of money, both to travel and to buy large amounts of alcohol, get completely drunk and then commit this kind of act and then offer excuses." -- England Home Secretary Jack Straw on the hooliganism in Marseille.
Pub Date: 6/16/98