My first World Cup memory was in 1974 when my family lived in West Germany (West Germany not only hosted but also won the 1974 World Cup). To this day, I recall that Zaire and Haiti were two teams in that World Cup.
To nobody’s surprise, both teams lost big. Zaire, which is today called Congo, lost 2-0 to Scotland, 9-0 to Yugoslavia, and 3-0 to Brazil. (I did not realize until now that Zaire was the first African country ever to participate in a World Cup.) Haiti lost 3-1 to Italy, 7-0 to Poland, and 4-1 to Argentina. At least Haiti scored two goals!
Only much later did I learn that Haiti was part of CONCACAF and was the only country from the North or Central American region to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Not bad for a small island country that had to compete against the U.S. and Mexico to qualify.
The U.S. had competed in past World Cups and actually came in third place in the 1930 World Cup. However, back then there was not the rigorous qualifying process that exists today and many teams were invited simply if they could afford the trip (the 1930 World Cup was held in Uruguay). However, it was not until Paul Caligiuri’s miracle goal against Trinidad & Tobago that qualified the U.S. for the 1990 World Cup that the U.S. started to establish itself as a regular on the World Cup scene.
The United States’ best World Cup performance was in 2002 when it beat Portugal and Poland and tied host South Korea in the group stage. Then they beat Mexico 2-0 in the second round but lost 1-0 to eventual runner-up Germany in the quarterfinal match.
The biggest disappointment was in 2006 when five minutes into their first game against the Czech Republic, the U.S. gave up the first of three goals, essentially ending their World Cup before it ever started. They did, however, manage a 1-1 tie against eventual-champions Italy in a game they really should have won. It was also the only game the Italians failed to win that year.
Who knows what 2010 will have in store for the U.S. team? The chances are good that they will advance out of Group C despite having to play England in its first match. If they don’t advance, 2010 will be considered a huge disappointment. Should they advance, the best potential second-round opponent–Germany–will be without their captain, Michael Ballack. If last year’s Confederation Cup is any indication, when the U.S. beat Spain and lost in the finals to Brazil 3-2 after being up 2-0 at halftime, the U.S. will do very good.
Good luck. U-S-A! U-S-A!