Americans Modest in Victory

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PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP

US defender Pope (front) is challenged by Portuguese defender Couto

For once, the Americans were modest. There was no showboating, no fist-pumping, no Shaq-like strutting. Landon Donovan, a wide-eyed U.S. midfielder whose centering pass miraculously ricocheted off of Portuguese defender Jorge Costa for an own goal, simply looked up, shook his head in wonderment and said, "I don't know, man. It was pretty incredible, huh?"

[an error occurred while processing this directive]That's an understatement. The U.S.'s 3-2 rout of fifth-ranked Portugal rated up there among David-and-Goliath World Cup upsets. Certainly, 20-year-old Donovan was amazed: "We were confident going into the game, but 3-2? In my wildest dreams, I wouldn't have imagined such an outcome. If the coach had told me that score, I would have just laughed and told him to quit joking."

The joke, of course, was on Portugal. The Europeans went into this Cup as dark horse candidates for actually winning the entire tournament. But their sluggish strikers and porous defense against an admittedly sloppy American side quickly made mincemeat of such ambitious predictions. Afterward, Portugal's celebrated forward Luis Figo, looking visibly exhausted and nursing a chronic injury, said in subdued tones: "All I want to say is that I would like to play without feeling any pain." For his part, Portuguese coach Antonio Oliveira blamed the paltry amount of time his team had to prepare for the Cup: "Everybody knows the Americans have been training for six months. We've had so little time and so many injuries."

For the Americans who took the field without star players Clint Mathis and Claudio Reyna, such excuses may have seemed a little, well, lame. But veteran U.S. midfielder Cobi Jones was feeling magnanimous. "All in all, we were pretty lucky, and the Portuguese just didn't have that luck on their side."

Next up for the U.S. is South Korea, which pulled off its first World Cup victory in 16 tries on Tuesday night. The Koreans, who appeared much crisper than the Americans in their 2002 debut, are counting on home-team advantage to carry them through the match, even though they are ranked far lower than the U.S. in the FIFA ratings. At the U.S.-Portugal game, for instance, the loudest cheer from fans came not for Figo or John O'Brien and Brian McBride, who scored America's two other goals. It came for South Korean coach Guus Hiddink, whose face flashed on a giant TV screen for few seconds during the match.

South Korean fan Lucy Kim spent much of the match waving a U.S. flag, but with Portugal languishing, she gamely cheered for the Europeans. She put her contradictory messages down to hospitality: "I want both teams to do well." But there's no question that when the U.S. and Portugal face her home side, national pride will win out over hospitality. After the Koreans trounced the Polish 2-0 on Tuesday, 30,000 Koreans spilled out on the streets of Seoul to celebrate the historic victory. "Everyone in Korea will be watching the next game," says Kim. "I think our support will push them into the second round." Still, Cobi Jones remained hopeful: "We pulled off an incredible upset against Portugal. Who says we can't do the same against Korea?"