The American soccer fairy tale is rather good right now, isn't it?

The United States entered the game against Mexico as underdogs, even though the guys had beaten their neighbors at least a couple of times in the run-up to the World Cup.

They emerged victorious after a bruising encounter in which 10 players were cautioned and Mexican captain Rafael Marquez was sent off for flagrantly head-butting Cobi Jones when the match was already lost at 2-0.

Am I surprised at the U.S. success? Somewhat. Am I pleased? You bet! You would have gotten long odds in May if you had said the USA would end the tournament ranked in the top eight in the world.

Yet that's exactly what Monday's splendid result guarantees, even if the three-time champions and perennial favorite German team blows the Americans away 10-0 in the quarterfinal.

I won't be the only fan glued to a television 4:30 a.m. Friday hoping for a miracle on turf. It could happen the way the USA is playing.

A newspaper vendor sells a special afternoon World Cup edition with the headline "Bye,Bye!" and a picture of Mexican soccer coach Javier Aguirre in Mexico City Monday.

(AP Photo/Claudio Cruz)

Monday's grueling contest saw Claudio Reyna lead from the front, setting up the first goal for Brian McBride with a blistering run down the right wing then keeping his cool while the Mexicans hacked and pushed from every angle.

And what of McBride, the first pick in the inaugural Major League Soccer draft in 1996, who has poured in goals for the Columbus Crew? He's been consistently reliable, surpassing Clint Mathis as the United States' most serious offensive threat.

Landon Donovan had a mixed match, taking his goal confidently from Eddie Lewis' driven cross, but missing an open goal in the 94th minute. His youth represents hopes that the USA will stay strong when Reyna, Jones and Jeff Agoos hang up their boots.

And what of the rest of the round of 16? England's all-time nemesis Germany continued to struggle, but won against Paraguay, and surprising debutantes Senegal overcame Sweden in extra time with a "golden goal."

Today's games saw South Korea pull back against ever-strong Italy to win in extra time. Turkey sent the other hosts, Japan, out of the tournament 1-0.

My native England walloped Denmark 3-0, with Liverpool ace Michael Owen finally getting his name on the score sheet.

One of the sins of successive English soccer team managers during my lifetime has been not picking young phenoms until they have gone off the boil. Owen is one exception. He's 22 and playing in his second World Cup. What a talent!

With erratic Brazil's 2-0 win against Belgium Monday morning, England will be gearing up for its toughest test Friday.

I was in England visiting my family during the opening two games of the World Cup, and can report that at times like this, "the footie" takes over all normal life in those islands. Everything else takes a back seat.

The England team's opening World Cup match against Sweden kicked off at 10:30 Sunday morning, so the Archbishop of Canterbury gave special permission for church service times to be changed (to prevent parishioners having to choose between God and religion). In Dorking, Surrey - where I went to high school - St. Peter's Church was not alone in actually bringing a big-screen TV into the chancel.

Our fervent prayers for victory apparently fell on deaf ears and that game was tied 1-1, prompting a four-day post mortem akin to the intensity of national debate over the devaluation of the pound or the 1936 abdication crisis.

After a short break cheering Queen Elizabeth II for her golden jubilee (50 years on the throne), soccer again took a front seat with the nation's second-biggest soccer rivals Argentina invading British living rooms, pubs and workplaces at lunchtime June 7. The Queen herself sent a message to Japan royally hoping captain David Beckham's injured toe was better. Drunken absenteeism reportedly cost the British economy several billion pounds after Becks' poorly placed but hard-struck penalty kick separated the teams.

The large but scattered Irish population around the islands meant 10,000 British pubs with beer-serving license extensions had the opportunity to quench both English and Irish morning thirsts. Pubs in London's Charing Cross Road, a great place for book-shopping, displayed the cross of St. George and the orange-white-and-green Tricolour. Grocery stores suspended large cutouts of Owen, Beckham and the lads over the aisles; just about every store sold some sort of commemorative booklet.

I suspect Sunday's heart-wrenching loss to Spain on penalty kicks prompted a wave of melancholy throughout Ireland and the Irish enclaves in London that only Guinness and Bass Ale can alleviate. The Irish luck - three games in which they scored in the last 10 minutes - finally ran out. Pity, because their players showed pluck, and they had just about all of the play during extra time.

So it continues. The drama of single-elimination soccer at the highest level.

If I sound breathless, it's because I am after this morning's Italy-South Korea "golden goal" excitement. Can it get any better than this?Patrick Webb is managing editor of The Daily Astorian