U.S. rallies for 2-2 tie with Slovenia
Donovan and Bradley score in second half as Americans overcome 2-0 deficit to keep World Cup hopes alive.
|Landon Donovan scores past Slovenia’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. (Pedro Ugarte, AFP/Getty Images / June 18, 2010)|
With only eight minutes left on a bitterly cold afternoon at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium, Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, ripped a shot into the back of the net to earn the Americans a 2-2 tie with Slovenia.
The goal climaxed one of the greatest comebacks in American soccer history and kept Coach Bob Bradley’s team alive in the tournament.
Second-half sub Maurice Edu appeared to put the U.S. ahead in the 86th minute, poking in a close-range shot after Jozy Altidore headed Landon Donovan’s free kick to him. But the goal was disallowed by referee Koman Couilibaly of Mali, apparently for a foul before Edu got the ball.
“I’m a little gutted to be honest,” Donovan said. “I don’t know how they stole that last goal from us. I’m not sure what the call was. He [the referee] wouldn’t tell us what the call was.”
For a long while Friday, the U.S. was on the ropes, staring at a two-goal deficit and a likely first-round exit, just as in 2006.
But a cracking goal by Donovan and the junior Bradley’s late heroics changed the landscape entirely.
Now, if the U.S. defeats Algeria on Wednesday and other results go its way, it will secure a place in the second round.
The largely pro-American crowd of 45,573 suffered through a subdued first half during which the Americans were outplayed in virtually every aspect of the game. They seemed devoid of ideas and bewildered by the Slovenians,
In the second half, however, even the vuvuzelas could not drown out the U.S. cheers.
Slovenia, which had beaten Russia in a playoff to qualify for the World Cup and had defeated Algeria in its opening game, appeared on the verge of adding the U.S. to its collection of high-profile scalps.
It took the lead only 12:51 into the match on a superb shot from distance by Valter Birsa, who found himself unmarked and unleashed a shot that was past U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard before he had time to react.
Stunned by the setback, it took the Americans a long while to regroup. Just when they were doing so, with Donovan coming oh-so-close to scoring, Slovenia struck again.
This time it was Zlatan Ljubijankic who did the damage. He collected a pass and went in alone against Howard, steering the ball past him to make it 2-0 in Slovenia’s favor three minutes before the halftime whistle.
Things looked bleak for the U.S. and there were angry scowls on the American faces as the players trooped off the field.
Bob Bradley had made only one change in his starting lineup from the team that tied England, 1-1, in the opening game. He sent midfielder Ricardo Clark to the bench and brought Jose Torres on for his World Cup debut.
The move was aimed at helping the U.S. maintain possession better and also to add a little more creativity to the American game. Although he played well, once forcing Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into a smart save off a well-taken free kick, Torres was taken off at halftime.
Whatever the elder Bradley said in the locker room. It worked. It was a different U.S. team that came out for the second 45 minutes, more intense, more focused, more dangerous.
Donovan pulled the Americans to within a goal when he beat defender Marko Suler, who slipped on the play, and went in alone against goalkeeper Handanovic. Donovan fired the ball up and over the ‘keeper to bring the largely pro-American crowd to its feet, not to mention the U.S. bench.
The Americans continued to press and were rewarded in the end when the Slovenia defense crumpled under the onslaught and Bradley, to his father’s delight, grabbed the tying goal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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