“As we came out of tunnel, we said, ‘Guys, we’re back home!’ The kids were chanting our name. With the people behind us, we felt good.”
Tim Weah certainly, did. His words were a reflection of the joy he experienced on the pitch. On a balmy evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, the crowd was firmly behind the United States. The result? A hat-trick for Weah in a 5-0 thrashing of Paraguay.
The PSG forward’s moment of glory arrived when he put the US 2-0 up. Collecting the ball on the left, Weah dribbled towards the goal. Closely followed by full back Jesus Rolon, the forward left his marker behind by cutting in on his right foot. Provided with a sight of the goal from the corner of the box, Weah unleashed a ferocious shot which rocketed into the net. The goalkeeper in air, but beaten.
Weah was understandably overjoyed. “I don’t score a lot of beautiful goals. Most of my goals are just tap-ins, you know. But today I’m so excited to score a brilliant goal.” US coach John Hackworth later corrected him. “The goal by the way, it was not brilliant, it was world-class.”
So was the performance. Paraguay had won all their group games but on Monday, the side just collapsed in face of the American charge. “This is a team that usually fights a lot,” contended Gustavo Morinigo, the Paraguay coach. But the South Americans did not demonstrate their best characteristics on Monday.
The first half, though, did see a more equal contest. Paraguay was set up to hit the US on counter, conceding possession in the hope to draw the opponent forward. However, the Americans bossed possession and barely offered a sneak peek. Paraguay were left to ponder over speculative efforts.
The US, contrastingly, played football of precision. The first goal saw Andrew Carleton deftly push the airborne ball forward on the right flank. Ayo Akinola chased it down and set up Tim Weah for his first goal of the night. The pace, the exactness of the move was incredible. “The first goal surprised us”, said the Paraguayan coach Morinigo later.
The United States were going to spring a few more. The Americans had far too much space between the lines all night. In some senses, it was a consequence of the tactical setup by both sides. The US were lined up in a formation that could be loosely described as 4-2-1-3. Andrew Carleton, in the role of a playmaker, dropped in pockets of space; at times even being the most forward player for his team. This was the result of Josh Sargent’s guileful movement as he stretched the defence. It also opened up opportunities for the wide forwards Ayo Akinola and Tim Weah to run directly at goal.
With Paraguay fielding a conventional 4-4-2 system, the US was able to overload certain areas. The consequent numerical advantage ensured the Americans ran rampant. After the second goal, Paraguay lost their energy and spirit. It was a walk in the park for John Hackworth’s boys.
Tim Weah, obviously, stood out. It had been a frustrating start to the tournament for him and he did not even make the starting lineup for the final group match against Colombia. But recalled to the side, Weah showed what he can do.
Despite Sargent’s obvious pedigree, Weah is perhaps the biggest name in this squad. His father’s shadow is likely to cast long glances over him but Weah is clear that he has something different, something new to offer. His efficiency in front of the goal on Monday, though, brought to life reminiscences of his father. Having already signed up for PSG, the 17-year-old is certain to catch a lot of attention in the coming years–hopefully not due to his name alone.
Coach Hackworth has been keen to ensure that Weah does not become the cynosure of all eyes. The US head trainer deserves a lot of credit for the way he has managed this team. Hackworth is also aware of the extraneous pressures. After the US failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, the coach told his players that they will have to bear responsibility and offer hope to the country. If performances like the one on Monday continue, there’s no reason why his wish will not be fulfilled.
The Americans will now travel to Goa for a quarterfinal against either England or Japan. As for Paraguay, the thrashing on Monday brings an end to a campaign which had promised more. Morinigo’s boys finished the World Cup with ten goals scored and as many conceded. All of the coach’s pre-match fears about his defence were realised on Monday. Thanks, primarily, to Tim Weah.
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Updated Date: Oct 17, 2017 19:00:06 IST