Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Chicago Fire [Print without images]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Donovan, U.S. net miracle group finish

By Charlie Corr

Emotions built as the clock ticked away Wednesday during the United States' final Group C match against Algeria in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Which way would the tide flow for the U.S.? Would the Americans fall short once again from advancing through the group stage, or could they pull off the miracle goal?

In the 91st minute, the U.S. found that long-awaited clutch strike as Landon Donovan's second-half stoppage time goal carried the Americans to a 1-0 victory over Algeria and first place in Group C.

The U.S. could not afford a draw, because also on Wednesday, England advanced through the group stage with a 1-0 win over Slovenia.

"It's a match where both teams need to win, so it turns into a very wide open game," former Chicago Fire and current U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said in the postmatch news conference. "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."

If you were attempting to watch the two Group C matches simultaneously, there were some key sequences to pay attention to on both screens.

In the 20th minute of the U.S.-Algeria match, the Americans were involved yet again with another disallowed goal. Clint Dempsey was called for offside before striking the ball into the back of the net. But replays showed that he was level with Algeria's back line.

Flip over to England-Slovenia, and in the 23rd minute England garnered a much-needed goal from Jermain Defoe to take a 1-0 lead. If things stood that way, with England topping Slovenia and the U.S. level with Algeria, that meant England and Slovenia would advance.

Back to the split-screen, in the U.S. match in the 57th minute, Dempsey hit the post off of Jozy Altidore's cross. While that was going on, England's Wayne Rooney had the ball one-on-one against Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic in the 58th minute. But Rooney's strike hit the left post after the ball ever-so-slightly deflected off of Handanovic's finger tips.

Aside from a near disaster at the start of the match -- almost allowing a 6th-minute goal to Algeria -- the U.S. created the better chances of the two teams. But the Americans were unable to finish.

From the U.S. viewers' standpoint, they were grasping for any advantage, whether it was the U.S.'s match or Slovenia hoping to find an equalizer against England. Even if it meant an Algerian booking -- Dempsey took a knock to the face from Antar Yahia in the 81st minute and Altidore was fouled from behind by Medhi Lacen in the 82nd, but neither foul (Yahia's was not even called by the official) had any bearing on the match. Around the 90th minute of the England-Slovenia match, Slovenia had a few attacking moments to try and level things up.

But that little bit of assistance would not come. The Americans had to overcome this obstacle on their own, and Donovan came through with the tally.

After making a save off of an Algerian header, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard made a phenomenal distribution deep to Donovan. Donovan dribbled the ball upfield and found Altidore to his right. Altidore then sent the ball in trying to hook up with Dempsey. Algeria goalkeeper Rais Bolhi and Dempsey converged on the ball and Dempsey's attempt popped out to an open space in the box, where Donovan slammed home the winner.

"When the ball came I wanted to take a good touch forward and be aggressive right away, and I had a lot of options," Donovan said of the play. "At the moment I chose Jozy, and he did a good job of putting a dangerous ball in to Clint, who did a great job of making an effort to get in front of the goalie, and then it just bounced there."

The U.S. next plays Group D runner-up Ghana this Saturday as the Americans advance to the final 16 along with England. Both teams were the Group C favorites to advance, and they pulled it off.

It only took the final minutes of group play to make it a reality.