Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Last-gasp Donovan fires USA into final 16

USA scored a dramatic injury-time winner in Pretoria to secure a 1-0 victory that sees them qualify for the Round of 16 as winners of Group C. It looked as if the Americans would be going home early after they missed a number of openings with Algeria goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi in stubborn form.

USA were sitting in third place as the 90 minute-mark ticked by but everything changed in the blink of an eye as Landon Donovan led one last attack. Jozy Altidore squared the ball into the danger zone, where M'Bolhi beat it away, but Donovan was able to latch onto the loose ball and passed it into an empty net, before being submerged among a sea of white shirts. It was the least Bob Bradley's team deserved, having also had a Clint Dempsey effort disallowed for offside, struck a post and seen Altidore pass up a glorious opening. Frustration for Algeria was evident as captain Anther Yahia was sent off in the dying seconds for a second yellow card.

The African side, who also needed to win to give themselves a chance of going through, made the more positive start with Karim Matmour unleashing an attempt on goal in the opening seconds before Rafik Djebbour aimed a hooked shot against the crossbar. It was a decent attempt from the centre-forward, who took the ball on his chest, but the woodwork came to USA's rescue. Djebbour tried again shortly after, from a wider angle, but his drive was always heading wide. The Americans answered in kind, with Dempsey and Herculez Gomez – one of three changes in Bradley's line-up – failing to keep their efforts on target.

It was an open, entertaining tussle, reflecting both sides' need to win the game. Gradually, USA were beginning to dominate possession and create openings. In the 21st minute, they had the ball in the back of the net but their joy was quickly extinguished when Dempsey was ruled offside, as he applied the final touch after Gomez's shot was diverted to him. That, at least, encouraged Bradley's team to think a breakthrough might not be far away, and they kept pouring forward. Donovan slid a lovely ball into Dempsey but Mbolhi did well to smother it. Two minutes later, the Americans were back to cause more panic in the Algeria penalty area. Bradley set up Donovan and when he could not turn it home the ball fell nicely for Altidore, but a heavy swing of his right boot sent the ball careering into the seats behind the goal.

For their part, the African side looked dangerous whenever Nadir Belhadj or Karim Ziani were on the ball. At the end of the first half, Ziani cut in from the left to position himself for the shot but was unable to keep it on target. USA were cursing their luck again in the second period as Dempsey followed up after Altidore had made ground with a strong run. The Fulham forward shaped a bending shot with his right that came back off the post, then gathered the rebound, only to shoot wide with his left foot with the goalkeeper still scrambling into position.

Both sides had let-offs in the 68th minute. Mbolhi came to Algeria's rescue again, parrying a close-range header from substitute Edson Buddle before jumping on the loose ball. The Africans immediately went down the other end, where a decent scoring chance for Ziani went the wrong side of the upright. Chances kept coming at either end and it came down to Donovan to at last make one count

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