Johannesburg’s Ellis Park provided a theatre for the game of surprise and drama in which Slovenia dominated the first half and the US forced their way back in the second. Pity about the refereeing, though. It ended US 2, Slovenia 2.
For anyone who saw Slovenia’s win against Algeria as a fluke, the first half of the US game was a sobering reminder that no bad team from Europe can qualify for the World Cup. Although the US nominally had most of the initiative and attacking disposition, it was Slovenia who broke early and looked way more dangerous. Birsa scored a brilliant goal and Ljubijankic was the last in line of precise passes to slot the ball coolly past the advancing US keeper Tim Howard. Slovenia presented itself team that is well-organised and could be lethal on counterattacks. Its keeper, Handanovic was also a very safe pair of hands.
In the 41st minute, the US’s return into the game looked like a distant and not very real possibility. Enter the US’s Donovan, who more or less alone scored the brilliant first goal in the 48th minute, and engineered the second by none other than manager Bradley’s son, Michael Bradley (in the 82nd minute). Donovan also crossed a really good ball into the Slovenia’s box in the 85th minute, which was deftly buried into Handanovic’s goal by Edu, only to be disallowed by the Malian referee Koman Coulibaly for an infringement he, and only he, saw. No protests from the US side could help, of course.
Phorto: Maurice Edu of the US (2nd R) takes a shot at a goal which was later disallowed during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match against Slovenia at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
Both Slovenia and the US now face the third round with a reasonable chance of advancing into the next round. Of course, it all depends on how England and Algeria perform will tonight: the number of permutations is pretty high. What is certain, though, is that it would be much better if all the results and eventual successes were due to the teams’ merits and not the unsteady refereeing.
Here are this reporter’s notes.
USA: Tim Howard, Steven Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Edson Buddle, Josmer Volmy Altidore, Clint Dempsey
Slovenia: Samir Handanovic, Bojan Jokic, Marko Suler, Bostjan Cesar, Miso Brecko, Valter Birsa, Robert Koren, Alexander Radosavlevic, Andraz Kirm, Milivoje Novakovic, Zlatko Dedic
Referee: Koman Coulibaly (Mali)
Man of the match
The first 10 minutes pass without much fanfare, with both teams diagnosing each other’s readiness and commitment.
- 12th minute: But it soon turns into a proper fight as Birsa scores from the right flank using his left foot. A rocket! Let’s see how the US responds.
Photo: Goalkeeper Tim Howard of the U.S. fails to save a goal by Slovenia Valter Birsa (C, 10) during their 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
- 16th minute: Donovan free kick. Punched away by Handanovic.
- 22nd minute: Howard saves the free kick. He is lucky Novakovic couldn’t reach the free kick.
- 29th minute: Free kick for Slovenia, but the US defence deals with it by sending the ball into corner that is then harmlessly disposed of.
- 37th minute: The US has a free kick after Bostjan Cezar earned himself a yellow card for a foul. Torres shoots a strong ball from the right-hand side, only to be denied by Handanovic’s spectacular save. These Slovenians will be tough nut to crack.
- 39th minute: Findley makes a promising run on the left-hand side but his low cross is disappointing.
- 41st minute: A great chance for the US gets eventually sent to corner by the panicky Slovenian defender Brecko. Findley’s forays into Slovenia’s penalty box are good.
- 41st minute: Ljubijankic scores from the perfectly executed counter-attack after Novakovic’s perfect pass. Ljubijankic’s finish was incredibly cool. 2-0 to the Slovenians,
Photo: Slovenia’s Zlatan Ljubijankic shoots to score past Tim Howard of the US during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
The US is now up against a hard, big wall. It will be tough for them to come back after such a shock. What’s more, the US players will have to attack even more emphatically, leaving huge gaps behind them. And we just saw what Slovenians can do when a gap opens up.
End of the first half. The US team is stunned. The Slovenians are 45 minutes away from going into the next round. Today is a day for upsets, it appears.
- 48th minute: Donovan scores for the US! Entirely a solo action from Donovan saw him appear alone in front of Handanovic and when everyone expected the cross, he stabbed the ball over the keeper’s head. Brilliant!
Photo: Landon Donovan of the U.S. (10) shoots and scores on Slovania’s goalie Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic as Marko Suler of Slovenia (4) tries to defend during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, June 18, 2010. REUTERS/David Gray
- 50th minute: Donovan’s free kick-cum-cross flies across the Slovenian goal and is narrowly missed by Dempsey and Onyewu. The US looks MUCH better than in the first half.
The Slovenians mount a response to the US’s second half offensive, trying to calm the rhythm that brought the Americans within a sight of their lead. It is in great Slovenian interest to becalm the choppy green waters of Ellis Park now. The US has also slowed down a bit, only to provide Altidore with a chance that was defused by the swift response of Suler.
Reports from the stadium indicate that the stewards are running roughshod over the supporters. How irritating it must be!
- 61st minute: Corner for Slovenia is harmless. Is this the same team that dominated the first half?
The game settles into a typical tournament game, with every ball fought for and every pass interception attempted.
- 69th minute: Yellow card for Suler after he stopped Altidore in a goal-scoring position just outside the Slovenia’s penalty box. From the resulting free kick, Donovan shoots inside and after the scrap Altidore shoots straight into Handanovic.
Will the US manage to claw its way back? They spend couple of minutes besieging Slovenia’s penalty box. Slovenian attacks are quickly defused. And yet, what is really missing are the proper opportunities.
- 78th minute: Slovenia defends with just about every player getting behind the ball. The US players still trying to find the way to drill through.
- 80th minute: US coach Bradley replaces a defender, Onyewu, with an attacker, Gomes. He might as well throw all he has on attack.
- 82nd minute: Michael Bradley scores with powerful short range shot that Handanovic didn’t stand a chance of stopping! The US have finally equalised. Ten minutes or more of this great game left. Can’t wait to see it.
Photo: Michael Bradley (2nd L) of the U.S. shoots to score the second goal past Slovenia’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic during their 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 18, 2010. REUTERS/David Gray
Yes, Bradley is the US manager’s son. Wanna be clever about nepotism now?
- 85th minute: The US scores again, but the goal was disallowed. No one knows why and the slo-mo doesn’t point to any infringement.
- 88th minute: Novakovic’s header was stopped on the goal line by Tim Howard. Anxious moments for both sides.
- 90th minute: Howard stops a very good shot by Radosavlevic
Three minutes of stoppage time. Both defences prefer to clear the ball as far away as they can. No time and no margin for error now. Pecnik is injured after colliding with Dempsey and get replaced by Kovac.
- 95th minute: Ends. The US players feel they scored a perfectly legal goal. Will see what the referee has to say after the match.
Report by Branko Brkic
Main photo: The US team celebrates Michael Bradley’s goal against Slovenia during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado