U.S., Slovenia a memorable match
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Slovenia's players celebrate after scoring against the US during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 18, 2010. (REUTERS)
JOHANNESBURG -- This World Cup has finally produced a classic match. Who would have thought that the United States and Slovenia would be the ones to produce it?
It took a majestic comeback for the United States to stay in contention for a place in the second round, but it managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie Slovenia 2-2 Friday.
More about the implications later, but the result of the game meant more than simply staying in contention for the second round.
The score meant a great deal to soccer in the United States.
If the United States had lost, it would have been a body blow to the game in the States. This was a World Cup in which the Americans were supposed to step up their game and make big strides.
They were coming to South Africa on the heels of a tremendous showing in the Confederation Cup.
People in the United States were beginning to take notice of the sport. An early exit would have been embarrassing and relegated the sport to the back pages immediately.
Now they have something else. While they still might not qualify, their performance against Slovenia gave the nation something they loved. A comeback story when all seemed lost.
And with a little luck, the Americans probably should have won. The homeland just loves those stories.
"I am proud of our guys," said U.S. forward Landon Donovan. "I don't know that there are many teams that would have responded in that way to going two goals down. We said (at half-time) if we don't believe we can do it then let's not go back out. We can't keep putting ourselves in holes like that. We have one more chance against Algeria and we are still alive. Emotionally we have to get up again for a difficult game against Algeria."
Beyond the emotional aspect of the game, the Americans have shown just how far they have come in playing the sport.
But you can't have a classic game unless two teams participate and Slovenia certainly played their role to the hilt. It went up 2-0.
The first bit of brilliance fell to Valter Birsa in the 13th minute. The Slovenian midfielder ripped a slicing shot from 25 yards that left American keeper Tim Howard rooted to the spot.
Then the Americans laid siege to the Slovenian net but couldn't connect.
The quick Slovenians punished the full out attack when Zlatan Ljubijankic scored on a quick counter in the 42nd minute.
The Americans looked doomed but instead of coming out with their tails between their legs, they continued their terrific offensive first half, going box-to-box with the Slovenians.
Three minutes in Donovan tied it. Eight minutes from the end, Michael Bradley tied it.
The stadium at Ellis Park was in a state of wild celebration throughout the match, loving every minute of it. When Bradley tied it, the place erupted.
Three minutes later, the Americans looked to have won it when Maurice Edu scored but to the shock of most people, referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali blew the whistle dead on a foul that everyone is still looking for.
He did not have a good day.
But everyone else did, from the fans to the tournament to soccer in the United States.
"I am a little bit gutted to be honest. I don't know how they stole that third goal from us. It's too bad because that was a fair goal I think," Donovan said.
Coach Bob Bradley says his team never stops.
"This team still understands how to fight for 90 minutes," Bradley said. "This is something we've seen time and time again. A lot of emotion went into the second half, and the result keeps us going until the last match."
And no matter what happens with the rest of the games, the Americans will still have a chance to qualify for the second round.
That holds promise of more good things to come.