Football / World Cup USA '94: Brazil happy to inherit the hosts' support: America's finest have no reason to bear a burden of failure after a gallant performance in defeat. Ken Jones reports from San Francisco

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BEHIND me, at Stanford Stadium near San Francisco, an American citizen of Chinese origin screeched herself silly. She couldn't tell a throw-in from a foul. Offside baffled her completely. But my, could she cheer.

It was a day for cheering. The Fourth of July. Wave a flag, belt out the anthem, let's hear it for the red, white and blue. It was, in the opinion of most, absurd to suppose the United States could defeat Brazil, but the boys were out there battling.

They were manning the ramparts, selling themselves dearly. 'We may be up against some of the best players in the world, but they have to tie up their boots like the rest of us,' the US midfielder, Tab Ramos, had said bravely.

Ramos, Perez, Lalas, Caligiuri, Clavijo, Balboa, Wynalda. Back a bit in time, they were processing names like that on Ellis Island. There was history out there, the root-spread of a nation.

The nationalism raised by sport, especially football, always has me uneasy. It can get ugly. A vehicle for xenophobia. This was not ugly. Happily, it was good- natured.

Chants were exchanged, but nobody thought to throw a bottle, snarl at a neighbour, obscenely question the referee's parentage or whistle through the opposition's anthem. Sometimes they booed a decision, but not maliciously.

Perhaps the best thing about this World Cup is that it has progressed without trouble in the audience. Significantly, sadly you may think, that is put down to England's absence.

When the game was over, their celebrations completed, two of Brazil's players laid a large US flag in the centre circle. Cynics might suppose they were courting popularity, and maybe they were. 'Alright, folks, we've seen off your team, so get behind us.'

A more cheerful thought is that the gesture was respectful. 'Good on you,' they could have been saying, 'you've given the game a lift, thrown up a vision of the future.'

Technically, the US didn't have a prayer. All they had going for them was heart. If they'd tried to take on Brazil in an open game, probably they would have lost by the tournament's record score. They dug trenches and defended them gallantly. Perhaps they could get to a penalty shoot-out.

Tom Dooley almost scored in an isolated attack but in the rest of the match they managed only three more attempts on goal. It was the Alamo, Custer's last stand.

Yet they made Brazil nervous. When the left-back, Leonardo, was ordered off for elbowing Ramos into temporary oblivion shortly before half-time, their anxiety increased perceptibly.

'Our dressing-room wasn't a happy place,' Brazil's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, said. 'Even against such blatantly defensive attacks, it is difficult with only 10 men. In the end the score didn't reflect our superiority because we could have made three or four goals, but the US were so competitive that our players always had to battle for the ball. People expected us to win easily, but we knew it would be hard.'

The US goal did not fall until the 74th minute, when Romario squirmed through to set up Bebeto. 'I should have stepped up on Bebeto and played him offside. But I stayed with him and slid and watched the ball go into the net,' Alexi Lalas, the big, bearded American defender, said. 'He finished it very well. He was going a hundred miles an hour. These guys are dribbling maniacs. They go straight for the throat. We did well to keep them out for so long. I think we deserve credit for that.'

It is said that the productive alliance Romario and Bebeto have formed exists only on the field. Their egos are not compatible. But when Bebeto scored they rushed into each other's arms.

'I felt as happy as if I had scored myself,' Romario said. 'That Bebeto did it makes no difference to me. When we embraced, his words were those of one brother to another. I hope I will be able to say similar words to him in the future.'

When this was reported to Bebeto he shrugged, looking a little puzzled. 'I think I thanked Romario for giving me the ball. I don't remember saying anything else.' But, who knows, it could have been the begining of a beautiful friendship.

BRAZIL (5-3-2): Taffarel (Reggiana); Jorginho (Bayern Munich), Aldair (Roma), Marcio Santos (Bordeaux), Mazinho (Palmeiras), Leonardo (Sao Paulo); Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Dunga (VfB Stuttgart), Zinho (Palmeiras); Bebeto (Deportivo La Coruna), Romario (Barcelona). Substitute: Cafu (Sao Paulo) for Zinho, 69.

UNITED STATES (5-4-1): Meola (United States Soccer Federation); Dooley (Bayer Leverkusen), Balboa, Lalas, Sorber, Caligiuri; Clavijo, Perez, Jones (all USSF); Stewart (Willem II Tilburg). Substitutes: Wynalda (VfL Bochum) for Ramos, h-t; Wegerle (Coventry City) for Perez, 66.

(Photograph omitted)