CHONJU, South Korea - Suddenly, the Germans are nervous. Suddenly, the Americans are a threat. Suddenly, the world is paying attention.
It's amazing what a little thing like a victory over Mexico can do. If it comes at the right time, in the right tournament, it can propel a team into realms undreamed of before.
Yesterday was that time. The World Cup is that tournament.
The United States, which came to South Korea with the modest goal of reaching the second round of soccer's quadrennial world championship, finds itself in the quarterfinals, with a date to play three-time world champion Germany on Friday.
These are uncharted waters for the American team, thanks to its stunning 2-0 victory over regional rival Mexico.
Goals on either side of halftime by Brian McBride and Landon Donovan, combined with superb goalkeeping by Brad Friedel, excellent defensive play by the entire team and tactically astute moves by coach Bruce Arena, have made the United States - dare it be said? - a World Cup contender.
Rudi Voeller, Germany's coach and a World Cup winner in 1990, certainly thinks so.
"The Mexicans played better, but the Americans were dangerous on the counterattack, and they kept going until the end," Voeller said. "We're going to have to take our chances. No one expected them to get this far, and they're really on a roll. Their confidence is going to be high."
Yes it is, and for three good reasons.
Yesterday's history-making victory marked the first time since the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 that the United States has progressed this far in the sport's premier event. Back then, in a small tournament with an uncertain future, the Americans played only three games, winning the first two before losing to Argentina in the semifinals.
Yesterday also marked the first time since 1950 that the United States has shut out a World Cup opponent.
"Our guys left everything on the field today," Arena said. "It's a great day for U.S. soccer."
There have been momentous victories before for U.S. teams. World powers Argentina, Brazil, England and Germany have been defeated at one time or another, but yesterday's triumph puts them all in the shade.
This was the World Cup. This was for a place in the final eight. This was against Mexico.
It was a victory on several levels. Its importance on the national stage was evident by the phone call President Bush made to Mexican President Vicente Fox, as each nation's leader wished the other well.
Bush also called the U.S. team before the game.
"I just hung up the phone a little earlier with the president of Mexico," Bush told Arena. "He was very gracious. I didn't declare victory yet, but I feel pretty confident."
It also was a victory on the coaching level. By altering his starting lineup and formation yet again, Arena and his assistants came up with a game plan that confounded Mexico coach Javier Aguirre.
Arena adopted a 3-5-2 formation, with Tony Sanneh, Eddie Pope and Gregg Berhalter forming the back line in front of Friedel. He had a five-man midfield that featured Claudio Reyna, Pablo Mastroeni, John O'Brien, Donovan and Eddie Lewis. His two strikers were McBride and Josh Wolff.
The lineup and formation caught Mexico off-guard. Berhalter had not played in the tournament until yesterday. Lewis had played only 16 minutes and Wolff nine.
"I thought we needed some fresh legs today," Arena said.
Arena's plan was to pack the midfield, absorb whatever Mexico could provide in the way of offense, and then hit the Mexicans on the counterattack.
McBride's goal was created on just such a counter in the eighth minute.
Reyna, looking comfortable in an unaccustomed right midfield position, overlapped down the right wing before crossing the ball to Wolff at the near post.
Wolff cut the ball sharply back out to McBride, who found himself momentarily unmarked. McBride's shot had flashed past Oscar Perez before the goalkeeper could react, and the United States held a surprise 1-0 lead.
"The key was our [first] goal," Sanneh said. "It allowed us to keep playing the way we were playing and just sit back [and defend the lead]."
The game's most controversial moment came early in the second half.
A Mexico corner kick was floated into the U.S. penalty area and in the tangle of bodies that rose to meet it, O'Brien appeared to deliberately knock the ball away with his fist or arm.
The Mexican bench rose in unison to appeal for a penalty kick. Aguirre did too. But referee Vito Melo Pereira of Portugal waved play on.
The Mexicans were in for another shock in the 64th minute when the Americans again caught them on a fast break.
This time it was Lewis who did the damage, speeding down the left wing, getting around his defender and sending a perfect centering ball for Donovan. He raced under it and headed it into the net on the dead run to make it 2-0, effectively ending Mexico's chances of a comeback.
Grahame L. Jones is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Mexico 0 0 - 0
United State 1 1 - 2
First half: 1, U.S., McBride 2, 8th minute.
Second half: 2, U.S., Donovan 2, 65th.
Shots at goal-Mexico 12, U.S. 10. Shots on goal-Mexico 6, U.S. 6. Offsides-Mexico 5, U.S. 1. Fouls-Mexico 17, U.S. 18. A-36,380.
Next for U.S.
What: World Cup quarterfinals
Site: Ulsan, South Korea
When: Friday, 7:30 a.m.
At stake: Winner will advance to face Spain, South Korea or Italy in the semifinals.