by Teofilo Cubillas
My involvement with football in the United States, where I still live today, began back in the 1970s when I accepted an offer to take part in a new league there, the NASL. I understood that they wanted to try and introduce football in a big way, which was why they brought in stars of the calibre of Pele, Elias Figueroa, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and many more. The project was a success: I remember that my team, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers used to sell out a 20,000-capacity stadium for every game.
Unfortunately we were all getting on in years and bringing in fresh blood was not handled particularly well, which led to a drop in interest and brought an end to the league. There are a lot of immigrants in the United States that come from countries when football is the number one sport. If you can give them a good show then they will follow the teams. If not, you will have empty stadiums. Fortunately, football has come back strongly in recent years and that’s clearly reflected in the performances of the USA's national teams.
I really admire how the United States have done in South Africa. They have shown incredible spirit, huge enthusiasm and the will to battle back after conceding first in nearly all their games. Against Ghana, they paid a heavy price for one lapse in concentration during extra time, but the players gave it everything they had. You have to realise that the Americans are never considered among the pre-tournament contenders. And despite that, they reached the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup and have given a better account of themselves at this FIFA World Cup™ than many traditional heavyweights.
Finally, I am pleased that there is an African team in the quarter-finals. It would have been sad if none had reached that stage! The whole continent is united behind Ghana. Last night it felt as if South Africa were playing; the stadium was full and the fans celebrated the victory as if it was their own national side. To stay in the hunt they will now have to take on Uruguay, though that is another story. I think that both Ghana and the United States both deserve credit from all of us.