Photo Credit: © US Soccer/Ben Queenborough/isiphotos.com
PRETORIA South Africa (June 23, 2010) – In the most dramatic moment in U.S. Men's National Team history, forward Landon Donovan scored a 91st minute goal to give the United States a 1-0 victory against Algeria to earn first place in Group C and a berth into the Round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The U.S. will now play Ghana at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on Saturday, June 26 at 2:30 p.m. ET live on ABC HD and Univision.
With the other Group C match seeing England defeat Slovenia 1-0, the Americans needed a winning goal or they would have been eliminated from the World Cup.
It was Donovan, the USA's all-time leading scorer, who provided the dramatic goal with a clinical finish from seven yards out after a brilliant attack that pierced the Algerian team from goal line to goal line. After Tim Howard snared a looping header on his goal line, he immediately surged forward and hit a streaking Donovan in the midfield with a perfect throw. Donovan then blazed forward at a blistering pace and found Jozy Altidore with a pass into the penalty area.
Altidore, who played a fantastic match despite getting pounded repeatedly by Algerian defenders, had enough left in the tank to dribble into the penalty area at speed and slip a square pass to Clint Dempsey. With Algerian goalkeeper Raïs M'Bohli lunging for the low cross, Dempsey got a touch that ricocheted off the goalkeeper and rolled to the center of the penalty area where Donovan stroked it home, setting off a wild celebration as almost the entire U.S. team dog-piled near the left corner flag and the stadium erupted with patriotic fervor.
"It's a match where both teams need to win, so it turns into a very wide open game," said U.S. MNT head coach Bob Bradley. "Algeria is a very good team, skillful and well-organized, but the game now takes on a different tone just because of the need for both teams to win.
"In this last cycle, guys have grown, taken leadership roles, as a team we've grown stronger, we've had experiences where we've been hardened...We believe that in soccer sometimes you can't always control a call or a bounce, but you can control what you're all about as a team, what you put into it, how committed you are to giving everything in the game. I think that has become the special quality of this group."
After the match, former President Bill Clinton, who is the honorary chairman of the U.S. Bid Committee for the 2018/2022 World Cup, came to the locker room to personally congratulate the team on the historic victory.
Donovan's goal, the 44th of his international career, gave the USA a World Cup group title for the first time in 80 years (since the very first World Cup in 1930). It was also the fourth World Cup goal of his illustrious career, tying him with Bert Patenaude on the USA's all-time list. The match was also Donovan's 11th all-time World Cup appearance, tying him for the U.S. record with Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart. Donovan has started 11 consecutive World Cup games for the United States dating back to 2002. He also becomes the only U.S. player to score multiple goals in two different World Cups.
Throughout the evening at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, the USA were the better team and the aggressor for 90 minutes and into stoppage time. Donovan's late heroics might not have been needed, however, but for another controversially disallowed goal by the United States.
This time it was Dempsey scoring from close range in the 20th minute on what appeared to be a valid goal that was nullified for offside. On the play, forward Herculez Gomez calmly crossed the ball to him at the top of the six-yard box after collecting his own rebound from a close range shot that was saved by M'Bohli. Gomez's attempt was the result of a steal by Altidore in the midfield as he managed to nick the ball away from the Algerian defense, then square a pass to midfielder Michael Bradley, who had the ball tackled away at the top penalty area, only to have it roll for Gomez to hit on goal.
The rest of the first half (and the game) was more of the same, with the U.S. compiling near-miss after near-miss in front of a partisan crowd cheering their every move.
In the 35th minute, Altidore, Donovan and Dempsey almost combined for the first goal, this time with Altidore hitting Donovan on a cross-field pass that Donovan then slotted to Dempsey in a clever opening in the center of the penalty area. A sliding Algerian disrupted his shot and Dempsey was unable get a good strike on the ball as it was saved by M'Bohli.
Two minutes later the USA created an even better chance, this time with Bradley finding Donovan open deep into the right side of the penalty area. Donovan lifted the ball over the sliding Algerian 'keeper, but it deflected into the air and dropped to Altidore. Donovan was also lurking for the rebound, but Altidore got to it first and blasted his effort over the bar from close range.
Throughout the first half, Algeria attempted a number of long range shots, the best of which came off the foot of Rafik Djebbour in the 6th minute that crashed off the crossbar after defender Jay DeMerit could not clear a long pass that landed at the top of the penalty area and skipped through. In the 38th minute, Karim Matmour hit a blast from 25 yards out that Howard pushed out for a corner, taking no chances with the accurate, hard shot.
Overall, the USA defense was stout throughout the game, and recorded their first shutout in World Cup play since the team's historic 2-0 victory over Mexico in the Round of 16 of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea Republic (a span of seven games). The shutout was also just the second for the United States in 22 World Cup matches dating back to 1950.
Jonathan Bornstein made his World Cup debut in a revamped U.S. backline, slotting in at left back, while Carlos Bocanegra lined up centrally alongside DeMerit. In addition to Bornstein, Edson Buddle made his first-ever World Cup appearance as a late second half sub and DaMarcus Beasley made his seventh all-time World Cup appearance in his third World Cup tournament when he replaced Bornstein in the 80th minute. For Gomez, the start was just the second of his USA career, dating all the way back to a game at the 2007 Copa America.
In the second half, the U.S. had as many as five great scoring chances, before finally breaking through in the 91st minute. Included in those chances was a shot by Dempsey that hit the right post after he was sprung with a long cross from Altidore. Dempsey then had a chance to sweep his rebound into the net as it bounced behind M'Bohli, but he could not turn the attempt on net.
In the 65th minute, second-half substitute Benny Feilhaber snuck into the right side of the penalty area, took the ball tight along the end line and tried to guide a cross in front of the goal behind the diving M'Bohli, but the Algerian goalkeeper knocked the ball out for a corner with his legs.
Buddle had a headed attempt on goal in the 68th minute on a cross from Steve Cherundolo, but was not able get squeeze it past M'Bohli, and just two minutes later a cross from Altidore from the right wing was almost knocked into his own goal by Algerian defender Madjid Bougherra.
The last definitive U.S. threat before the goal came in the 79th minute on a free kick from Michael Bradley that he drove straight on goal for M'Bohli to punch away.
After the U.S. goal, the emotions of the Algerians got the best of them as Anthar Yahia was sent off after receiving two consecutive yellow cards for arguing with referee Frank De Bleeckere of Belgium following a foul call on the North Africans in the waning minutes.
U.S. forward Robbie Findley missed the match for the United States after picking up yellow card cautions in the team's first two games, but the entire U.S. line-up will be available for selection when the team takes the field in the Round of 16 against Ghana, which will be re-match of the USA's final group match at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, a game in which the U.S. was eliminated from the tournament after a 2-1 loss.
Special pre-game coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on ABC HD. Fans can also follow along on ussoccer.com's MatchTracker and at twitter.com/ussoccer.