By Jay Mwamba
Cobi Jones got the United States off to a flying start in the Nike U.S. Cup 2000 last weekend with two first-half goals and two assists in the Americans’ 4-0 demolition of South Africa at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
The victory catapulted the U.S. to the top of the standings in the annual tournament ahead of their clash with Ireland at Foxboro Stadium last night
Ireland went into that match joint second with Mexico after their 2-2 tie in Chicago on Sunday.
Living up to pre-tournament billings as one of the players to watch in the four-nation competition, Jones beat South African goalkeeper Andre Arendse with two powerful blasts late in the first half (35th, 43rd), as the
"Bafana Bafana" finally cracked under the intense U.S. pressure.
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"The [South African] defender was yelling ‘shoot it, shoot it,’ " Jones said of his first goal, a cracker from outside the penalty box, "so I shot it."
Jones turned provider in the 64th minute, sending in a low cross that skipper Claudio Reyna slammed into the net, before setting up the fourth and final goal for Ernie Stewart three minutes later, to seal a dominant American
performance in front of 16,570 fans.
"We beat a good team," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena. "We had to make a couple of adjustments at halftime, but it was that second goal that took us to halftime that really gave us the confidence."
South African manager Trott Moloto squarely put the blame for the rout on his charges. "Some of our players got careless out there in the second [half]," he remarked.
The South Africans were lucky not to go down 7-0 after a string of agonizing misses by U.S. forward Brian McBride. The Columbus Crew target man’s frustrating afternoon began in the 19th minute, when he incredibly shot over the bar from point-blank with Arendse diving at his feet.
McBride then sent a header just over the bar from a Reyna free-kick (23rd), and nodded another cross wide in the 38th minute with the goal at his mercy.
South Africa came out aggressively in the second half and succeeded in applying some consistent pressure on the hosts. But apart from a shot by sub Delron Buckley that hit the side netting and a free header that former Major League Soccer (MLS) player Shaun Bartlett failed to exploit, they were unable to create many chances.
Moloto promised to ring the changes for tonight’s encounter with Mexico in Dallas, with Manchester United midfielder Quinton Fortune, who missed the USA game because of injury, set to make is first appearance in the Nike Cup.
Surprisingly, Arena, too, talked of fielding an entirely different lineup for last night’s tussle with the Republic.