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June 18, 2010
U.S. rallies from two goals down, loses game-winner to questionable call

Landon Donovan stepped up in the second half to lead the U.S. back from two goals down against Slovenia.
Landon Donovan stepped up in the second half to lead the U.S. back from two goals down against Slovenia.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa—A valiant U.S. comeback was overshadowed by a questionable referee’s whistle in Friday’s 2-2 Group C draw with Slovenia at Ellis Park Stadium.

The U.S. once again dug themselves into an early hole, surrendering a 13th-minute goal and trailing 2-0 at halftime. Landon Donovan orchestrated the masterful rally, starting with a picture-book run into the box and close-range finish in the 48th minute. In the 82nd, Donovan fed the ball from the right wing to Jozy Altidore, who sent a bouncing header into the box for Michael Bradley, who leveled the score at 2-2.

Three minutes later, halftime substitute Maurice Edu got on the end of another Donovan free kick, a 19-yarder from the upper right side of the box, and slammed it home from point-blank range for the apparent game-winner, but referee Koman Coulibaly inexplicably blew his whistle nullifying the play and awarded a goal kick to Slovenia. Replays revealed no U.S. fouls or violations, and after the match, coach Bob Bradley admitted that neither he nor his players even then had any idea why the play had been called dead.

Donovan admitted he felt “gutted” by the result. “It’s important to understand that the players put a lot of emotion into the game,” Bradley explained, and they just want a fair outcome.”

Valter Birsa took advantage of slack U.S. defending to put Slovenia on the board in the 13th minute with a wide-open 25-yard blast. The U.S. came close to equalizing in the 25th, when Juan Torres forced netminder Samir Hansanovic to save a wickedly curling free kick, but gave up a backbreaker of a goal to Slovenia’s Zlatan Ljubijankic in the 42nd. Milvoje Novakovic did the heavy lifting, splitting two defenders with a cross from the right side. Ljubijankic easily beat defender Jay Demerit to the far post for the finish.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard showed little sign of being limited by the rib injury suffered in last Saturday’s tournament opener against England, and finished with seven saves, including two in the final two minutes of the game.

The result leaves the U.S. (2 pts, 0 goal differential) with a huge stake in the outcome of Wednesday’s Group C finale between England, who are expected to manhandle Algeria later on Friday and move to four points, and Slovenia (4 pts, +1), regardless of their own result against the Africans.

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