SUWON, South Korea – America woke up Wednesday to one of its greatest soccer wins.
The U.S. soccer team shocked heavily favored Portugal at the World Cup, earning a 3-2 victory and breaking a five-match Cup losing streak dating back to 1994.
The United States lost all three of its games in the 1998 World Cup and finished last out of 32 nations. The team was widely expected to open this year's tournament with a loss against the strong Portugal squad, but they quickly took a 3-0 lead, getting goals from John O'Brien and Brian McBride and another when Landon Donovan's shot deflected in off a defender.
Portugal closed to 3-1 with a goal before halftime and got another in the second half when American Jeff Agoos accidentally deflected the ball into his own net. But they could get no closer.
At the end of the game, the U.S. players ran out onto the field and jumped into each other's arms.
The victory is the biggest in years for the U.S. team at the world's most popular sporting event.
The United States has never won the World Cup. The Americans advanced to the second round when they hosted the tournament in 1994, but they took a major step backward in 1998, losing to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia and suffering a first-round elimination.
With Wednesday's win, they head into their remaining first-round games against co-host South Korea and Poland with a good chance to advance.
"I think this victory will grab the attention of a lot of people in the United States," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.
Even before the game, which started at 5 a.m. EDT, American fans showed just how far the sport has come in the United States. Several hundred from Sam's Army, the team's support group, greeted the Portuguese with chants of "Over-rated!" Moments before the second American goal, they were chanting "Adios Amigos!"
While the U.S. team is obscured in its nation by the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals, the Belmont Stakes and Mike Tyson's fight against Lennox Lewis, the Portuguese looked as if they were playing with the weight of their nation on their shoulders. When Pauleta, the forward who led the French League in scoring, missed a chance in just the 22nd minute, he grimaced and bit the top of his uniform jersey.
Portugal, a semifinalist at the European Championship two years ago, is led by a "Golden Generation" of players including Luis Figo, the world's top player in 2001. The Portuguese, making their first World Cup appearances in 16 years, made it close after their difficult start, but tired badly in the final minutes.
"They're a very good team, but the guys were ready and really put pressure on and we took advantage of our chances," McBride said.
The U.S. victory was especially impressive considering it came without U.S. captain Claudio Reyna and star attacker Clint Mathis, both of whom were out of the starting lineup with injuries.
Reyna, the team's playmaking midfielder, strained his right quadriceps in practice after the team arrived in South Korea on May 24. Mathis, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament last June 5, has been bothered by pain in his left knee, which was operated on in 1995.
The American team entered the game 1-8-1 since returning to the World Cup in 1990 following a 40-year absence, including 0-6-1 against European nations. The United States has lost five straight since its 1994 2-1 upset of Colombia at the Rose Bowl.