As in every good Hollywood blockbuster, their heroes endure every calamity known to man, survive many injustices and save their country with mere seconds remaining before complete destruction. On Wednesday in Pretoria, the US soccer team pretty much followed that recipe: the match ended US 1, Algeria 0.
Isn’t it strange that a nation more accustomed to baseball, basketball and American “football” put on a performance that embodies the spirit and attitude of football? That never-say-die grit that has somehow disappeared in the European game, that refusal to give in – that is what the American boys gave us tonight.
They were cheated of a victory several times this tournament. They came from behind against England, and against Slovenia. And this afternoon, against an Algerian side looking to do serious damage, their indomitable spirit finally paid off. For the second time in their history, (they reached quarter-finals in 2002), the US are through the group stages of a Fifa World Cup.
The US coach Bob Bradley’s strategy was actually very simple: don’t faff around. Just get the ball forward, and get it into the back of that Algerian net. They were direct in attack. The most outstanding player in the American midfield was Michael Bradley, the head coach’s son, who was all over the field, putting in the crucial challenges at the back, making the intelligent touches in midfield and setting up the strikers for shots. It can never be easy for the coach of an international football team to face the prospect of picking his own son to play in the team, but the younger Bradley’s outstanding 90 minutes should dispel any doubt from the mind of even the most cynical person.
Jozy Altidore played well too, even though he was often guilty of making silly mistakes, and silly misses as well. He had a Yakubu-like moment when he shot what was supposedly an easy chance over the poles. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were their usual hard-working selves. Dempsey can actually take a lot of credit for Donovan’s goal. It was his attempt that the Algerian goal spilled Donovan’s way.
America’s simple approach to play wasn’t without its dangers, though. The two central defenders were often beaten by Rafik Djebbour, the rest of the team pushing up too far in attack and not back-pedalling quickly enough to assist in defence. The Algerian striker, who has a great first touch but a less-than-great final touch, used his speed and ability to turn on a dime very well. He gave the US a horrible scare in the opening stages of the match when his shot hit the bar and bounced back into the field.
Photo: An Algerian fan reacts as United States fans celebrate after the U.S. defeated Algeria, 1-0, during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Algeria’s young goalkeeper, Raïs M’Bohli, made saves that belie his youth and lack of experience on the international stage. It’s a pity he’s going home with the rest of his team. He played with all his heart and deserved more than this early exit.
Algeria were ultimately punished for their clumsiness in defence (they often relied on rough tackles to stop the physically intimidating Altidore) and their failure to exploit the gap between America’s defence and midfield.
For the US, it will be a very happy night. They just refused to knuckle under, even when it seemed as if the odds were completely against them. Their incredible self-belief will make them a very dangerous side to whoever they face in the last 16. They. Simply. Will. Not. Give. Up.
Here are this reporter’s notes:
USA: Howard, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Bornstein, DeMerit, Bradley, Dempsey, Edu, Gomez, Donovan, Altidore
Algeria: M’Bohli, Bougherra, Belhadj, Yahia, Halliche, Lacen, Ziani, Yebda, Kadir, Djebbour
Man of the match
Before the match
Bob Bradley has made a couple of substitutions to the team that was so cruelly denied a win against Slovenia. Oguchi Onyewu will start on the bench. Jonathan Bornstein will take his place in the centre back position. Hercules Gomez replaces the suspended Robbie Findley and Maurice Edu will start in place of Jose Torres.
Algeria have only made one substitution. Rafik Djebbour starts in the striking position.
- 1st minute: Matmour gets the first squiz at goal in the match.
- 1st minute: America immediately retaliate on the other side of the field, Donovan chipping one into the Algerian penalty area. First touch of the ball for M’Bohli, the Algerian keeper.
- 6th minute: Djebbour beats the US defence, and comes within a whisper of going one ahead with a well-controlled shot that bounces off the upright.
- 6th minute: The US aren’t quiet either, with Gomez almost putting one behind Bohli. The Algerian keeper went the wrong way for a fraction of a second there, but recovers well to put it behind for a corner.
- 8th minute: Free kick to America. Dempsey takes it and skies it.
- 9th minute: The US are failing to deal with Djebbour. A ball that should have been cleared falls for the Algerian, who has another go, this time missing the intended target altogether.
- 11th minute: A yellow card goes to Hassan Yebda for hacking at Jozy Altidore’s ankles.
- 13th minute: Yebda with an attempt from distance… that was a long, long way out. You’d fancy Howard to save anything coming from that distance. As it is, the shot is not directed well.
- 15th minute: M’Bohli comes right out of his poles to intercept a cross that was going Donovan’s way.
Former US president Bill Clinton is in the stands, sitting snugly next to Fifa president Sepp Blatter.
- 17th minute: That would have been a breathtaking goal. Hercules Gomez attempts a volley but strikes the ball with his shins and sees it go over.
- 17th minute: Donovan has a half opportunity, and skies the ball.
- 20th minute: Donovan and then Gomez both have a shot at goal and both fail to beat M’Bohli. The ball is eventually spilled Dempsey’s way and he wastes no time in thumping it in. He is judged to be offside, but the reply shows goal was legal.
Photo: United States’ Clint Dempsey (C) kicks a goal near Algeria’s goalkeeper Rais Ouheb Mbouli (L) which was ruled offside during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
The holes in Algeria’s defence are bigger than the holes in the US defence. That just about sums it up, I think.
- 24th minute: Djebbour beats a US defender to the ball, but cannot control the header enough to test Tim Howard.
Djebbour is excellent at finding space. He is proving to be more than a bit of a handful for the US centre backs.
- 29th minute: Carlos Bocanegra heads away a shot by Matmour.
- 31st minute: DeMerit heads away a cross. Djebbour was lurking just behind.
- 32nd minute: Donovan finds Dempsey with a cross, but the American’s header strikes an Algerian and deflects back into the field.
- 35th minute: Dempsey charges forward again, forcing the narrowest of saves by M’Bohli.
- 36th minute: Altidore fudges up what was a golden opportunity. Dempsey connects well with the ball, beats the goalie and sets Altidore up for a shot. Not the worst miss of the tournament, but a bad one nonetheless.
- 38th minute: Powerful shot by Matmour from distance. Howard can only parry the shot away.
Michael Bradley is a delight to watch in midfield. His intelligent play is unrivalled, at least by any other player on this field.
- 42nd minute: Another effort by Dempsey. M’Bohli tames it easily.
- 43rd minute: A slicing shot by Ziani, which goes wide.
- 44th minute: A free kick to America. The pass falls to Bornstein, who makes a meal of the effort. Well, he is a defender, isn’t he?
- 46th minute: Djebbour sneaks between the US central defenders again, but can’t connect with the cross.
End of the first half.
Will Bob Bradley bring Oguchi Onyewu on to control Rafik Djebbour? I think he might.
It’s Benny Feilhaber who goes on, in place of Hercules Gomez.
- 46th minute: Matmour causes more problems for the US defenders. He was offside in any case.
- 47th minute: A free kick to the US in a useful position. M’Bohli makes the save.
- 49th minute: Dempsey tries to set Bradley up inside the Algerian penalty. No luck for the US.
- 51st minute: Fifth corner of the match to Algeria. Yebda has no real control on the final header and it goes out for a goal kick to the US.
- 56th minute: Altidore powers down the left flank and licks in a great low cross in for who Dempsey, who smacks the upright with his first effort and sends the rebound out.
The US has a more direct approach to attack, and have been let down by poor finishing so far.
- 58th minute: A volleying attempt by Yebda goes out.
- 61st minute: A yellow card to Altidore. The powerful US striker has been playing roughly, and has finally gone into the Belgian referee’s book.
- 62nd minute: A great defending challenge by Bocanegra saves the US. Djebbour would have surely scored with that one.
- 64th minute: Edson Buddle comes on for Maurice Edu.
- 64th minute: Feilhaber comes very close to scoring with an effort from a very tight angle. M’Bohli’s left leg was all that stood between the ball and the goal.
- 64th minute: Algeria make a change, swapping one forward player for another. Djebbour comes off for Ghezzal.
- 64th minute: Dempsey’s header from a corner goes wide. Only just.
- 68th minute: A brilliant save by Bohli to deny Altidore a goal. It was a point-blank header, and a very, very good save.
It was Buddle who got the final touch on the ball.
- 68th minute: More fresh legs for Algeria. Guedioura comes on for Ziani.
- 70th minute: Bougherra almost commits an own goal. The ball goes out for a corner.
- 72nd minute: Yebda with another long shot, this one going both wide and high.
- 74th minute: A free kick to the US. Bradley heads it high.
- 75th minute: A yellow card to goes to Anthie Yahia for a stomp on Altidore’s toes.
- 78th minute: A free kick to the US. Bradley takes it and forces a good stop from M’Bohli.
Clint Dempsey took a jab in the face from Yahia’s elbow in the scramble for that free kick, and goes off with a cut lip.
- 81st minute: Damarcus Beasley comes on for Bornstein.
- 82nd minute: Mehdi Lacen gets a yellow card for a lunge on Altidore. Clint Dempsey takes the free kick. His shot rises and rises some more.
- 85th minute: Saifa comes on for Matmour.
- 88th minute: Bradley closes Ziani down, who nevertheless skies the shot.
- 89th minute: Buddle gets the ball just on penalty line and tries to find Altidore, who is nowhere to be seen.
- 89th minute: Beasley gets a yellow card for a handball.
- 90th minute: Donovan scores! M’Bohli is finally beaten. Dempsey took the first effort and M’Bohli spilled the ball into the path of Donovan, who puts it away.
- 93rd minute: Algeria implode. Yahia gets a second yellow card for protesting too vociferously, and gets his marching orders.
It’s over for Algeria. They need two goals in 30 seconds.
- 94th minute: A free kick to the US. They don’t get to take it. The referee has blown.
The US are through!
End of the match.
By Sipho Hlongwane
Main photo: United States’ Landon Donovan (L) celebrates scoring a goal during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match against Algeria at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh