A Last Gasp Winner for the U.S.

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Landon Donovan finally found a distance from which the U.S. couldn’t miss the goal. About 4 yards away. After Jozey Altidore missed a sitter from 6 yards and Clint Dempsey hit the post from 12, Donovan ended an almost desperate second half siege against Algeria with a scrambled last-gasp goal in the 91st minute—the first minute of stoppage time—to clinch a spot in the round of 16 against Ghana. “Of course, we should have and could have scored earlier,” said Donovan, “which would have spared us that dramatic ending. In the end, though, it’s a good thing that it happened that way, so quickly. I didn’t even have time to think what I was going to do.”

There would be no blaming the referee tonight. The Americans opened with lineup that included Herculez Gomez up front with Altidore, Maurice Edu in the midfield and a reshuffled back line with Jonathan Bornstein on for Oguchi Onyewu. The back four looked a little shaky in the opening minutes, yielding two chances for Algeria off miscues, with Rafik Djebbour smashing a shot onto Tim Howard’s crossbar in the 6th minute. But as the game progressed, the Americans got steadier, applying more pressure to what had been a very game Algerian team. Clint Dempsey looked to have put the U.S. up in the 21st minute but he was barely offside.

That constant U.S. pressure should have yielded a goal in the 37th minute, when Altidore found himself with nothing but the gaping goal to shoot at. Instead, he ballooned a shot well over the net, a shocking mistake, even for a young pro like him. The Americans were left to rue that miss at the half, by which time England procured a 1-0 lead on Slovenia.

The task was clear—either win the match in the next 45 minutes or go home. U.S. coach Bob Bradley inserted some offensive punch to start the half, bringing in Benny Feilhaber in the midfield and moving Dempsey, coming off a brilliant year in the Premiership, to pair with Altidore in attack. The strategy seemed to pay off in the 57th minute when Dempsey collected a pass from Altidore and cruised in alone on Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi . But with the game on his foot he hit the right post with a well-placed shot. The ball rebounded off the post right back to Dempsey, whose second shot was not even close.

By now, Algeria seemed to have given up on winning the game and was hanging on for an honorable, if empty draw—they needed a win to advance too. The U.S. poured in crosses, and by the game’s end, the Algerians were defending with 10 players in the box against corner kicks. Bradley made his last substitution at 80th minute, and as the game moved into injury time every second drained the Americans’ chances of advancing into the knockout round.

Ironically, it would be a rare Algerian counterattack that would create the ultimate scoring chance. U.S. keeper Tim Howard, who was rarely bothered for most of the night, gathered in an Algerian shot and heaved it down the right wing to Donovan who quickly found Altidore steaming ahead in front of him. Altidore, who worked incredibly hard all night winning balls and creating chances, beat his marker down the right slot and crossed. An Algerian defender, running back to cover, interfered with M’Bolhi and the ball squirted loose. Donovan was there to claim it and calmly slot home in the first minute of injury time. “These guys never give up and they showed that again today. “ said US. coach Bradley, “I was worried because we could have gone away empty-handed, but my players decided otherwise and never stopped believing.”

In the quaint Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, thousands of U.S. supporters in the crowd of 36,000 erupted while the U.S. players on the field piled onto Donovan at the corner flag. The fans had come a long way, dressed in all kinds of silly red, white and blue Uncle Sam outfits, Captain America costumes, and of course, Elvis getups. When the ref blew the whistle for full time, no one wanted to leave the building.