The Fiver | USA! USA!! US … oh

Jacob Steinberg
‘Cancel the booking. I said cancel the damn booking!’

T&T LOSE-IT FACTORY

At the last World Cup, fans of USA! USA!! USA!!! came up with an earworm of a chant that quickly became the soundtrack to their team’s matches. “I … believe … that we will win!” they roared with relentless persistence, whether they were at the stadium or watching on a big screen, displaying the kind of cheery optimism that made $exually Repressed Morris Dancing Fiver feel very uncomfortable indeed. With his team managing all of six days before crashing out of the tournament, The Fiver’s English cousin was deeply unsettled by seeing another country actually get enjoyment out of watching their team. They were doing football wrong! They were a threat to the very concepts of bitterness and self-loathing, a menace that had to be stopped at all costs. Luckily Belgium stepped in just in time. It had been a close shave.

As far as $exually Repressed Morris Dancing Fiver was concerned, however, the matter didn’t end there. The pathetically cynicism-free Americans still had to have the last dregs of positivity drummed out of them before they could be seen as worthy, by proper, hardened, traditional footballing nations. And it is only now, after their catastrophic 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago left them without a World Cup spot for the first time since 1986, that USA! USA!! USA!!! can be considered worthy of true respect by misanthropes, with the mood in the States so despondent that soon they’ll be chanting “I … believe … they’ll let us down!”. At long last, they belong. Forget about that happiness nonsense, this is what football’s all about.

Bruce Arena’s misfiring side only needed a point away to the Concacaf whipping boys to be sure of nabbing the third and final automatic qualifying place at the expense of Honduras and Panama. But nothing went right for them. Everything that could go wrong did. Even when Honduras took a 3-2 lead over Mexico, it seemed that USA! USA!! USA!!! were going to have to settle for fourth place and a flamin’ play-off against Australia. All they needed was for Costa Rica to do them a favour against Panama, for Panama not to be awarded an equaliser when the ball clearly failed to cross the line, for Panama not to score a late winner and for a time-wasting Panamanian ballboy not to boot the ball into orbit in stoppage time.

All of which didn’t sound too much to ask, but Panama would not be denied their first ever appearance at a World Cup finals. Their win saw them pip Honduras to third place on goal difference and even overshadowed Leo Messi’s hat-trick for Argentina, whose fightback against Ecuador meant that Chile missed out on a tense evening in South America. But while Messi’s star power dragged the wheezing Argentinians over the line, Christian Pulisic, the great American hope, couldn’t quite summon enough inspiration to save his team. Pulisic was the one shining light in a wretched qualifying campaign. He deserved better. If it’s any consolation, though, at least he’ll be in good company next summer with Gareth Bale, Arjen Robben, Alexis Sánchez and Leigh Griffiths.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The voice of the people has been heard; celebrate this historic day for Panama. Tomorrow is a national holiday. It is a historic day for the country. Tomorrow will be free for the public and private sector workers. On a national holiday, also classes are suspended at the country’s private and public schools, celebrate family” – president Juan Carlos Varela keeps the party going in Panama.

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FIVER LETTERS

“The USA! USA!! USA!!! can join Wales, Scotland and Holland in a consolation cup. Every player will get a participation trophy” – JJ Zucal.

“Sometimes I venture out and explore other pages of the Big Website. Today was such a day. I noticed a piece on fracking in Lancashire and read that police had moved protesters off-site because they were worried about a three-metre tower of pallets that may become unstable and collapse. A whole three metres. That is 10 feet, or two Wee Gordons, as it is now known” – Robert Darby.

“May I be one of 1,056 oval-ball-loving pedants to point out that the majority of the Scottish rugby team are either South African or New Zealander (hence the somewhat-snipey nickname ‘The Kilted Kiwis’), and probably wouldn’t qualify for the Scottish football team (yesterday’s Fiver letters), what with a three-year residency period in rugby as opposed to the five-year period in football. I know that this is probably a lazy generalisation and I should do some research before spouting off, but this is The Fiver so what the hey! PS: I’m Welsh so I get the irony of me criticising a national team for pinching another country’s players. PPS: I’m also aware that’s probably not the correct use of irony” – Rob Morgan (and no other oval-ball-loving pedants).

“Re: the suggestion in yesterday’s Fiver that Iceland (the country) is not the first Google result for a search of ‘Iceland’. The way Google decides what to show you first depends on a number of factors, including location and recent searches. Assuming it is Iceland (the shop) that shows up before Iceland (the country), this is more a reflection on The Fiver’s internet shopping habits than it is on the size of the Nordic island nation” – Jack Stokes.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is …Rob Morgan.

BITS AND BOBS

Barcelona are back, baby, and they fancy themselves some Philippe Coutinho. “We are ready to sign Coutinho or any other player the technical staff request in the winter window,” cheered club suit Oscar Grau.

Sergio Agüero is hopeful of being available for Manchester City’s home game with Stoke City on Saturday despite suffering rib-snap in that Amsterdam smash.

Uefa’s Nations League is shaping up nic … well, it’s shaping up.

Pope’s Newc O’Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha insists that clear-the-air talks with Kenny Miller over his recent squad omission went splendidly. “We spoke … because sometimes it’s important for you to justify the decisions,” he sniffed. “Other times I don’t have to justify anything. But we clarified everything and, as I told you, he’s one of ours.”

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou isn’t rising to the bait despite suggestions he’s about to flamin’ Do One. “I am aware of reports today suggesting that I will step down as head coach of the Socceroos next month,” he tooted. “My sole focus is on preparing the team for our final two qualifying matches. I will not let anything compromise the team’s journey on getting to a fourth consecutive World Cup.”

Welsh League Division Three team Caerau have received international clearance to play Paul Merson, 79. “I have spoken to him and he is over the moon,” whooped club secretary Dai Hooper. “Paul said he is having a little run-out in a friendly game for someone to get himself a bit of fitness and is really looking forward to it.”

Burnley and Republic O’Ireland forward Jonathan Walters could be out until Christmas with knee-knack.

And former Scottish first minister Henry McLeish has waded back into the national team’s shambles. “I think we have reached a new low,” he honked, inadvertently continuing the theme.

READ MORE: UEFA announce line ups of Nations League

READ MORE: Which Russia 2018 nations are most reliant on one man?

THE RECAP

Sign up and receive the best of Big Website’s coverage, every Friday, it says here. Seems to be a curious lack of mentions for The Fiver …

STILL WANT MORE?

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Marina Hyde on Fifa and Qatar.

The pretty remarkable story of Farc guerillas and football. By Carl Worswick.

Has any striker had a more prolific month than Harry Kane? The Knowledge gives it to you straight up.

Farewell Arjen Robben, sweet master of cutting inside, sighs Priya Ramesh.

The state of the USA! USA!! USA!!! team.

All that wild World Cup qualifying business takes us back.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

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