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U.S. exits World Cup with modicum of respect.

By Paul Obejuerge
Gannett News Service

NANTES, France (Thursday, June 25, 1998) The United States exited the 1998 World Cup winless, but neither helpless nor hopeless.

The Americans played European power Yugoslavia on nearly even terms before accepting a 1-0 defeat today before 39,500 spectators at Stade de la Beaujoire. "We deserved to draw," U.S. captain Thomas Dooley said. "The USA team leaves the World Cup with heads held high."

Certainly, France '98 will not be remembered fondly by the Americans, who lost all three matches and were outscored 5-1. In some ways it was the worst performance by a U.S. team in its three World Cup appearances in the '90s; the Americans will finish no higher than 30th among 32 teams, and they scored one less goal than they did in their winless 1990 appearance.

In 1994, the United States advanced to the second round. "We had hoped to tie Germany or Yugoslavia and expected to win against Iran," coach Steve Sampson said. "We can't escape our inability to put the ball in the back of the net."

As it had during a bitter 2-1 loss to Iran, the United States created numerous scoring chances without converting. "At the end of the day, when you're in a World Cup, it's results that count," said Alan Rothenberg, president of U.S. Soccer federation. "Based on that, we're obviously disappointed with the '98 World Cup. At the same time, we've been very, very realistic about U.S. soccer. We think a great deal of progress has been made . . . We're inching forward as a soccer nation. We're not leaping forward. It's a long, hard struggle to the top."

Rothenberg said no decision on Sampson's fate would be made until August.

Several U.S. players were critical of the coach's lineup choices. Veteran midfielder Tab Ramos declared "the whole World Cup was a mess."

Sampson said the complaints were "directly related to playing time," and Rothenberg said players who must watch from the bench "never look at themselves" as part of the problem.

Yugoslavia scored only four minutes into the game. Mike Burns, playing a marking back in place of the injured Eddie Pope, was whistled for a foul on forward Predrag Mijatovic about five yards outside the box. "Bad call," goalkeeper Brad Friedel said. "No foul there."

Midfielder Dragan Stojkovic unleashed a screaming free kick that Friedel stretched full to push away to his left. The ball went directly toward Yugoslavia defender Slobodan Komljenovic, unmarked near the end line, who headed it just inside the post and behind Friedel, who was scrambling back to his feet. And that was it.

The United States applied significant pressure for much of the next 60 minutes before seeming to reach the point of exhaustion as a group. "We attacked more than Yugoslavia," defender David Regis said. "Unfortunately, they took advantage of our lapse in concentration and scored an early goal."

Said midfielder Cobi Jones: "Once more, our efforts didn't pay off."

At the end, the Americans were exhausted, almost unable to find the energy to push forward yet again. One of them, forward Brian McBride (who scored the only U.S. goal in the tournament) played the final 50 minutes with his head heavily bandaged after he received an elbow from a Yugoslav defender.

Yugoslavia finished second in Group F behind Germany and plays the Netherlands in the second round.

The Americans go home, their World Cup record in this decade at 1-8-1, and with Sampson looking for a silver lining in a dark cloud. "We gave up the early goal, but our players didn't hang their heads," he said. "Obviously, Yugoslavia is an exceptional team. I think we proved we can play good soccer against a good team. Our failing, again, was in front of the net. We must improve in this area if we hope to get any results in the future."

Paul Oberjuerge writes for the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sun.

Group F

Yugoslavia 1, United States 0
in Nantes

United States -- Brad Friedel, Mike Burns, Thomas Dooley (Marcelo Balboa 82), David Regis, Brian Maisonneuve, Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna, Joe-Max Moore (Preki Radosavljevic 58), Ernie Stewart, Frankie Hejduk (Eric Wynalda 64); Brian McBride.
Yugoslavia -- Ivica Kralj, Goran Djorovic, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Zeljko Petrovic, Slobodan Komljenovic, Dejan Stankovic (Branko Brnovic 55), Slavisa Jokanovic, Dragan Stojkovic (Dejan Savicevic 62), Vladimir Jugovic; Savo Milosevic, Predrag Mijatovic (Perica Ognjenovic, 31).
Goal: Slobodan Komljenovic (Sinisa Mihajlovic) 4.
Shots at goal: United States 15, Yugolsavia 13.
Shots on goal: United States 8, Yugoslavia 8.
Corner kicks: United States 3, Yugoslavia 5.
Fouls: United States 18, Yugoslavia 21.
Offsides: United States 2, Yugoslavia 0.
Yellow cautionary cards: United States - Claudio Reyna 13; Yugoslavia - Dejan Stankovic 42, Perica Ognjenovic 61.
Referee: Gamal Mahmoud Ahmed Ghandour (Egypt).
Attendance: 39,500.