Donovan carries U.S. to victory over Algeria, Round of 16.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, June 23, 2010) -- It was 30 years ago when television announcer Al Michaels uttered the famous words" "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
Michaels was referring to the United States hockey team's stunning upset of the powerful Soviet Union en route to gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics, but it could have applied to today's 1-0 triumph by the U.S. men's national soccer team, which used a goal by midfielder Landon Donovan in stoppage time to defeat Algeria to win the World Cup's Group C before 35,827 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.
The U.S. is headed to a Round-of-16 match against Ghana Saturday, but without Donovan's strike, the Americans would have been headed home. That would have been an ignominious fate because for the second straight game, the U.S. had a perfectly good goal negated by misguided officials.
After a hugely frustrating afternoon that the U.S. dominated, it look like the Americans would be heading home with England and Slovenia moving on to the Round of 16 when England finally won its Group C match 1-0 over Slovenia. Had the U.S. not won and drawn again, its three draws would have been a recipe for a trip home
As injury time began, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard sent a long throw to Donovan, who swiftly moved the ball up the right side. He, in turn, passed to striker Jozy Altidore, who carried it into to the penalty area and fed midfielder Clint Dempsey, who triggered a shot that was blocked by Algerian keeper Rais M'Bolhi. But M'Bolhi could not hold it and left a rebound sitting out of reach. Donovan ran on to the ball and buried it into the left corner of the net for the winner.
The U.S. dominated the match except for another shaky first 10 minutes when Algeria hit the crossbar. From that point on, the Americans attacked relentlessly. It look like it paid off in the 21st minute when Dempsey put the ball in the net, but it was disallowed because of an erroneous offside call.
The U.S. kept up the attack and the frustration grew. In the 36th minute, Dempsey had another golden chance but could not convert Donovan's low cross. In the 38th, midfielder Michael Bradley passed to Donovan, who fed Altidore whose short-range try was over the bar.
The frustration continued into the second half. In the 57th minute, Dempsey collected a deflected cross but could only put a shot off the right post. Then, Dempsey hit a rebound wide of the left post and substitute forward Edson Buddle snapped off a point-blank header directly at M'Bolhi.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley made three changes from the starting lineup that faced Slovenia. Maurice Edu, who played well in the second half of that match got the start in the midfield. Striker Herculez Gomez received his turn on the front line with Altidore, but the most unexpected change was sitting central defender Oguchi Onyewu down, moving Carlos Bocanegra from the left side to his place in the middle and starting Jonathan Bornstein on the left flank.
Algeria, despite needing a victory to have any hope of advancing, played an oddly defensive match. It hung back, clogging the middle and trying to counter-attack when possible. It did not do the Algerians much good and for the day they had only four shots on the U.S. goal.
In the end, Donovan might have finally redeemed himself for his poor showing in World Cup 2006 in Germany by pulling the U.S. through today. In an oddity of scheduling, the Americans will meet Ghana, the team that sent them home from Germany, Saturday in the Round of 16.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Not very busy and not called on for any heroics, but good distribution of the ball with a long throw starting off what proved to be the winning goal. Also gets high marks for organizing his defense after a shaky start.
Defender Steve Churundolo - 6: Played his usual solid game with few defensive errors and able to often push forward into the offense.
Defender Jay DeMerit - 6.5:: A few early missteps, but then settled into a fine game with almost no errors.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein - 5.5: Had problems from time to time, but overall played well and made no glaring errors.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6: Moved into the center from left side and was solid over 90 minutes after some early confusion.
Midfielder Maurice Edu -5.5: Was very good defensively, but pulled for an additional striker. At times, was drawn a bit out of position, allowing long Algerian shots.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7: Was a major factor on both ends, playing strong defense but also very involved in offense thrusts. One of his best U.S. games.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7.5: A redeeming effort. This puts a cap on a strong World Cup. Was dangerous all day and kept plugging until the play that provided the winner.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 7: The main U.S. offensive threat for most of the game. Worked tirelessly and created several golden chances. His finishing might be better, but his effort is exemplary.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 5.5: Had a few good moments, but was not able to really integrate himself into the offensive flow.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 7: With his physical play, he was a problem for Algeria all day. Is clearly improving by leaps and bounds, and with his speed and size is a threat to any opponent.
Midfielder Benny Feihaber (46th minute for Gomez) - 6: Solid for 45 minutes. Was able to push forward constantly and was a big part of the U.S. attack in the second half.
Forward Edson Buddle (64th minute for Edu) - 5.5: Took time to settle in and then had a few good moments, but otherwise was not very effective.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (80th minute for Bornstein) - 6: Only 10 minutes, but his pace stretched the tiring Algerians and he was able to make a contribution in a short time.
SoccerTimes Player of the Match: Landon Donovan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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