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Draw with England a lifeline for Team USA

It wasn't pretty, but the 1-1 tie with England meant the world to Americans.

Wayne Rooney
Jay DeMerit of the U.S. gestures near England's Wayne Rooney (left) during their 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, South African, June 12, 2010. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

BOSTON — It is a famous maxim of American football that “a tie is like kissing your sister.” But in the rest of the world’s game of football, a tie — or a draw as they call it — can be something far, far better, and even beautiful.

And in South Africa on Saturday, the U.S. opened its World Cup 2010 campaign with a 1-1 draw against England, a tie that, for the underdog Americans, was even better than kissing Angelina Jolie (or, if you prefer, Brad Pitt).

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The happy result against the favored English, 8th-ranked in the world, put the American team in good position to advance out of the first round for the first time since the 2002 World Cup.

Meanwhile, for England, a nation convinced that this team represented its best chance for a World Cup crown since its lone victory back in 1966, it represented a major embarrassment. While England remains likely to advance, it certainly didn’t appear championship-caliber.

Moreover, its superstar striker, Wayne Rooney, was largely stifled by a defense that is considered the U.S. team’s Achilles heel; suffice it to say that English babies born in the next few days are unlikely to be named Wayne and a knighthood is not yet in the offing.

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Before the game, much was made of how the Brazilian officiating team had been schooled in English obscenities, a potential American advantage given that Rooney has a tendency toward tantrum not to mention some choice verbal abuse for referees. But the first four-letter-word of the evening came out of mouths of the Americans, most visibly from goalkeeper Tim Howard, when his central defense pulled a disappearing act and England converted an easy goal in just the fourth minute of the game.

But by far the biggest obscenity was committed by English goalkeeper, Robert Green, when, late in the first half, he let a soft shot by American midfielder Clint Dempsey bounce through his arms and dribble into his net. It would be hard to imagine both the breadth and volume — “howler” was the Mirror’s choice, the Guardian went with “calamitous” — of the reaction in English homes and pubs. I am convinced that all the way across the pond, I could hear the word “wanker” echo like thunder from the heavens.