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A thirsty kickoff to the World Cup

If only Team USA felt the same love that England gets at the White Hart pub.

the restrooms are getting longer I may be able to sneak to the bar and finally get that beer I've been wanting.

Back after half time.


3:15 p.m. ET — Sometimes I wonder why they call this game football ... most of this half has been a game of head ping-pong — definitely the fast and the furious rather than the beautiful game of intricate passing and long possessions.

GOAL ...  The England goalkeeper has just lived out his worst nightmare, bobbling an easy long-distance shot and letting it into the net with a minute left in the first half.

Liam Leahy is taking a risk ... he has unfurled the Stars and Stripes and draped them around his shoulder and is cheering — alone — for Team USA.


3:05 p.m. ET — 28:22 of the first half and a real flurry by England leaves USA goalkeeper Tim Howard in pain. English forward Emile Heskey, built like an NFL fullback from the pre-steroid era, clattered into him ... looked like a clean collision to me. We'll see how badly Howard's bell was rung in a moment.


2:55 p.m. ET — My man Liam Leahy is standing tall — but grimacing.  USA had some possession around the England penalty area but nothing came of it. He has a drink ... a pint of lager from the look of it. I still haven't had a drink.

A word about the surface the two sides are playing on.  The last time I saw soccer balls bounce like this was on Astroturf at Giants Stadium when Giorgio Chinaglia was going to single-handedly create interest in soccer in the U.S. Landon Donovan was a toddler at the time.

18 minutes and Jozy Altidore missed what a beautiful cross from Donovan and what should have been the USA equalizer ... then England nearly score on a counterattack.

This is good stuff ... I am getting genuinely thirsty.


2:40 p.m. ET — Patriotism tends to be under done by the youth of this country ... not tonight: "SEND HER VICTORIOUS! LONG TO REIGN OVER US. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!!!!!" roars the crowd ... seats are at a premium in the White Hart but they are useless while the match is on ... everyone is standing. Rooney is the last roar. Then an intense silence descends. Football is more serious than life, you know. Game faces are on around the pub's crowd. Will to victory being transmitted by collective telepathy to South Africa ...

GOALLL!!!!!  A nit of pressure, a through ball for captain Steven Gerrard and England grab an early lead at around 3:30 of the first half.


LONDON, U.K. — 2:30 p.m. ET — Well, it is rare that the hard news cycle and the sports news cycle dovetail perfectly but here we are: England vs. USA at the World Cup is playing out against a simmering row between Britain and the U.S. over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

So here we are just before kick off at the White Hart pub in Stoke Newington, in the London borough of Hackney on a day when the pages of the newspapers are filled with irate letters about Barack Obama's harsh language for BP as it is called here, and "British Petroleum" as everybody in Washington seems to be calling it. Finger pointing unpleasantness that actually didn't exist in quite the same way when George W. Bush and Tony Blair joined the two nations together to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Now, it may well be that if you're reading this in the U.S. or are an American abroad you are not aware of this overlay of political drama to the upcoming World Cup soccer match. And that is one of the clear reasons why it is likely England will win.

Everything in this country today is happening in the shadow of the match. The cross of St. George, patron saint of the English, is flying from every third house. It waves from half the cars in the street. Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper gave away a free flag in every one of the nearly 2 million copies it sold today — along with a free 1 pound bet at Ladbrokes bookmakers. (The return on that investment would be about 15 cents should England win ... that's how strong the odds favor the team).

Currently in the White Hart, the largest pub in Stoke, I reckon there are upward of 700 people, inside and outside in the two gardens. No one who wasn't here an hour ago is going to get served ... that's how deep the crush at the bar is right now ... I wasn't here an hour ago so I am extremely thirsty.

The patrons are booing right now as the British sportscaster holds a baseball bat and mocks the pretension of calling the fall classic the "World" series.

The view in the pub is England will win ... but it won't be easy. Liam Leahy of Boston takes exception. He is wandering around the pub in a T-shirt that reads: The Empire Strikes First. My own view at the start is England should win because America's soccer fans haven't suffered enough disappointment down through the years to merit my support. I guess what I'm saying is that when American society reaches this fever pitch of anticipation it will be possible to start taking the U.S. team seriously

And the kickoff is now ...


The stars:

England's Wayne Rooney: He looks like Shrek but he scores

Argentina's Lionel Messi: The brightest star at the start of the World Cup

Brazil's Kaka: Can the church-goer kick Brazil to another World Cup trophy?

Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba: Africa's shining hope suffers last minute injury

The stories:

South Africa's soccer comes a long way from apartheid

North Koreans arrive in South Africa with no fans

Who's the better host: Johannesburg or Beijing?

Video: Soweto rocks World Cup with calabash stadium

Slide show: South Africa readies for World Cup 2010

Africa's first high speed train