Like Landon Donovan's goal, World Cup coverage has been something to cheer about

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010

Admit it.

When Landon Donovan knocked in that rebound 45 seconds into added time against Algeria, didn't you leap out of your chair and nearly make head contact with the ceiling? Didn't you let out a whoop and a holler and pump your fist?

Didn't you look around for someone, anyone to hug, high five, thump chests? (Couldn't do it solo in the home-office-man cave, though I know I nearly gave a heart attack to the Jack Russell terrier, which was sound asleep at my feet until my roar startled her into a 20-second barking jag, as if she was celebrating, as well.)

It's not often that a sporting event touches the soul the way the United States' dramatic 1-0 victory did on Wednesday morning, a win that sent the Americans to the round of 16 in the World Cup and kept hope alive for more possible miracle finishes.

The only comparison that comes immediately to mind was the "Miracle on Ice" hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. I covered that career highlight event and distinctly recall one of my colleagues standing up in the cramped press box in the rafters above the arena that day and declaring to his fellow American scribes: "We're changing the rules. There will be cheering in the press box!"

The 2010 World Cup has mostly been a delight so far, save for Les Miserables -- mon dieu, that petulant French side. And the U.S. victory over Algeria was a sweet cherry on top, with the possibility of plenty more to come.

I've also been particularly enamored with the wall-to-wall television coverage of every game in the tournament provided by ESPN and its affiliated networks, a massive undertaking for a cable giant that so far clearly has been up to the task.

During the U.S.-Algeria game, I started writing down all the things I liked about the telecast, and the list became rather extensive.

Start with the announcers. ESPN's play-by-play guys are all veteran British broadcasters, and Ian Darke handling U.S. vs. Algeria was simply superb on Wednesday. At various points in the match, he offered interesting anecdotes on the players, critiques of the play, pithy commentary on substitutions and strategy and words and language not usually heard over America's cliche-cluttered sporting airwaves.

Toward the end of the game, Darke, a veteran British football and boxing broadcaster, reminded viewers that "there is no profit whatsoever in a draw" and seemed to be rooting hard for the American lads who were dominating play when he added, "They just need a spark of wit or invention to make it happen."

A limping player was suffering "with a cramp, I fancy." A lovely play was "immense." An Algerian penalty was "cynical." The man who made a slick move was "clever" and in the end it was all "a mountainous drama. . . . Talk about the American dream." When a camera panned the crowd and focused on a couple of American fans dressed up in Elvis outfits, Darke didn't miss a beat, if you'll pardon the expression.

"It's now or never, you might say," he chirped, the perfect line.

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