ARLINGTON, TX- Team USA got off to a quick start in Group C of the World Cup of American Football, scoring a decisive 147-0 victory over Cote d'Ivoire, earning 3 points and a potentially crucial point-differential margin.
The Americans got off to a quick start in front of 80,000 partisan fans, as Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 82-yards for a touchdown. The confused Les Éléphants were seemingly taken by surprise with the ferocity of the American blocking on the return, with several "pancaked" in the midst of attempted handshake greetings.
Les Éléphants had an equally difficult time when they took possession, as a deep American defense led by Dwight Freeney, DeMarcus Ware, Darrelle Revis, and Julius Peppers swarmed the pitch, limiting the African squad to negative 35 yards in total offense.
"It was very difficult playing offense," lamented halfback Saloman Kalou (12 carries, negative 6 yards, 2 fumbles). "I would run with the ball in my hands, and Mr. (Brian) Urlacher or Mr. (James) Harrison would quite viciously throw me to the ground, with little pretense of going for the ball. I was expecting them to receive, at a minimum, a yellow card. But... nothing."
The American offense had more success, though quarterback Peyton Manning (12-13 415 yards, 8 TDs) believes the Americans have plenty of room to improve.
"We played well considering that we only practiced together for a week. But, I'm hoping as the tournament goes on, I'll be able to spread the ball around to more players than just Reggie (Wayne) and Dallas (Clark). There is plenty of room for improvement. Cote d'Ivoire came ready to play, it's never easy out there."
While Manning was working to solidify the normally precise American aerial attack, the team leaned on the running game, enjoying a 150+ pound-per-man advantage across the offensive line. Joe Thomas, Ryan Clady, Logan Mankins, Steve Hutchinson, and Nick Mangold gashed large openings in Les Éléphants defense, as Adrian Peterson (6 carries, 180 yards, 3 TDs) and Chris Johnson (4 carries, 242 yards, 4 TDs) found frequent success.
In addition to a daunting size disadvantage, Les Éléphants were frequently frustrated when their successful slide tackles were flagged for 15-yard tripping penalties.
"I contacted the ball every time," protested linebacker Siaka Tiene.
Injuries and coaching were also problematic for Les Éléphants. Quarterback Didier Drogba, sacked on all four of his passing attempts, left the game at the 3 minute mark of the 2nd quarter with an apparent neck injury after a brutal blind-side hit from blitzing linebacker Patrick Willis. The crowd was muted and solemn as Drogba was taken from the field immobilized on a stretcher. Backup quarterback Kolo Toure remained gravely concerned after the match.
"The stretcher is usually used for injuries such as twisted ankles, but this injury was bad. Very bad. We are very concerned about Didier. I can say emphatically that he was not embellishing his injuries. His family has been notified."
Les Éléphants coach Sven-Goran Eriksson also took much of the blame for the lopsided result.
"I knew going into this match that we would have many physical disadvantages, so I tried to devise a game plan that played to our strengths. It was my hope that we could accumilate many "extra-points" and "field goals", given our kicking skills. However, we were unable to navigate the brutal gauntlet necessary to get within kicking range. Mr. Belicheck and Mr. LeBeau devised a very effective defense."
Les Éléphants also wore down as the game went on, strangely limiting themselves to 3 substitutions, and even playing for a time with only 10 players after Drogba's injury. The Americans, on the other hand, substituted frequently, sometimes bringing in extra linebackers on 3rd down defense, and extra receivers on both of their offensive 2nd downs.
The crowd was enthusiastic throughout, and seemed to especially enjoy the elaborate touchdown celebrations which are forbidden in the American Premiere National Football League (NFL), but are permitted in the World Cup. Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and Maurice Jones-Drew performed an elaborately orchestrated tea party after a second quarter touchdown. Owens and Ochocinco also performed R. Kelly's hit single "Ignition" after Owens' 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the 3rd quarter. www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MJYZLjc8JQ
The running clock spared Les Éléphants further attrition in the second half. They must play South Korea in only 6 days, with only a handful of healthy players remaining.
The Americans will clash with Paraguay next Saturday.
"I told the guys we'll enjoy this game tonight and tomorrow," Belicheck told the media after the game, "but we're back to work on Tuesday morning to prepare for Paraguay."