The U.S. battled Slovenia to a 2-2 draw on Friday in the most dramatic game of the World Cup Finals thus far. The U.S. again had a sluggish start, conceding a 2-0 lead at halftime before living up to their true potential in the second half. The U.S. executed three well played goals in the second half. But the third goal was disallowed by referee Koman Coulibaly in a highly controversial call that has yet to be explained. Nevertheless, the U.S. can likely advance to the knock out phase in the World Cup Finals with a win against Algeria on Wednesday.
In Wichita, Sean Surcoff saw the call on the third U.S. goal and shared the disbelief of many U.S. fans. “They showed the replay over and over and over and there is no U.S. foul on the play. There is no off-sides. If anything, Slovenia committed three fouls of their own defending the play. They practically mugged our whole team and the call went against us. I really want to hear an explanation from the referree about his call. It cost us the game,” said Surcoff.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley started Jose Francisco Torres in the middle. Torres’ ball handling skills and his ability to tackle and win balls are among the best on this team. But Torres, who plays professionally in Mexico, often appeared confused. In Mexico, the game is played more linear, straight up and back, and Torres may not have been accustomed to the typical European strategies of moving triangles and other geometric shapes that appear and vanish as the ball and players move. The U.S. was not able to control the middle of the field.
Robbie Findley made the U.S. team with his speed and Coach Bradley had hoped he could help stretch the field. But while the team was able to get the ball upfield to Findley, Jozy Altidore was usually his only option. When others did get into position, Findley had trouble getting the ball to them and setting up good opportunities. Findley received his second yellow card, albeit on a questionable call, and he will miss the final match of group play against Algeria.
The back line defense displayed several defensive lapses during the match that stronger teams will be able to exploit better than Slovenia.
But the U.S. showed poise, tenacity and teamwork in the second half, falling just short of a miraculous come from behind victory.
Slovenia scored the first goal early when Valter Birsa got the ball in the middle. Birsa was unmarked and the U.S. defense failed to close him down. Birsa turned, lined up a shot and fired. He had all day to execute the shot.
The defense was at fault again on Slovenia’s second goal as Oguchi Onyewu was playing Zlatan Ljubijankic onside before he beat U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. Slovenia had a 2-0 advantage at half.
The U.S. opened the second period with enthusiasm and intensity. Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber came on as subs and better controlled the center of field. Feilhaber’s calm, confident touches unsettled the Slovenians far more than had Findley’s pace. Clint Dempsey found open spaces between Feilhaber and Altidore which somewhat confused the Slovenians; they were suddenly on the defensive.
Early in the period, Steve Cherundolo lofted a nice pass up the wing to Landon Donovan, who took the ball up the right side of the field. Donovan waited for a runner to break into position in the middle. But nobody got there fast enough and Donovan fired a booming shot from an extraordinary angle. The ball went over the goalkeeper’s shoulder and the Americans were suddenly back in the game.
The U.S. continued to put pressure on Slovenia. Two minutes later, Dempsey got the ball from Donovan and crossed the ball towards the back post where Onyewu was just short of tapping it in.
See a photo slideshow of the game below
Slovenia was able to mount a few attacks in the second period, but Jay DeMerit made several vital tackles and outside backs Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra cleared the ball out of danger several times.
In the 82nd minute, Landon Donovan lofted a nice ball to Altidore who muscled his way to the ball. In an well planned play, Herculez Gomez cut left across the front of the goal drawing a defender. Altidore headed the ball forward to his right to a streaking Michael Bradley who banged an awesome shot into the net for the equalizer. The beautiful play was executed to perfection.
Late in the game, the U.S. was awarded an indirect kick in the attacking third. The U.S. players lined up in the box while Donovan took the kick. The U.S. players all charged the goal to get in position to play the ball. Slovenian players seemed to grab all of the U.S. players. Michael Bradley was bear-hugged to the ground. Donovan curled an nice chip towards the back post and Maurice Edu broke free to volley the ball into the net. But referee Koman Coulibaly, who had allowed physical play the entire match, had blown whistle against the U.S. at the start of the play, even before the goal was scored. No explanation was given on the call; the goal was disallowed. The Americans were furious that no foul was called on any of the Slovenian players.
Replays confirm that Coulibaly had indeed made the call before the goal was scored, but the world is baffled by the call itself. There is no apparent foul or offsides. Unlike most other sports, FIFA does not require pool referees to comment about their calls during a match. Coulibaly has not made a public statement about his game-changing call.
The U.S. made one of the most extraordinary second-half comebacks in World Cup history. They are only the fifth team ever to gain a tie after a 2-0 halftime deficit. But in reality, they should have gone down as the first team to win a World Cup match after being down 2-0 at halftime.
The U.S. plays their final match in group play against Algeria on Wednesday at 9:00 am central time. The match will be shown on ESPN.