Landon Donovan’s last-minute winner rescued USA’s World Cup, sending them through to the second round as group winners, ahead of England on goals scored, where they will face Ghana. It would take the most blinkered Englishman to suggest they do not deserve to top the group after they scored four goals to England’s two and were denied a perfectly good winner late on in the 2-2 draw with Slovenia.
They were denied by poor officiating here, too, Clint Dempsey denied a perfectly good goal in the first half by an offside flag. But Algeria might have already had the lead before then, Rafik Djebbour taking a long ball down on his chest before acrobatically volleying against the crossbar. Shortly after Herculez Gomez had a low drive well saved before Dempsey put the ball in the net.
Jozy Altidore was tackled just outside the area and the ball fell to Michael Bradley. The coach’s son was surrounded by three Algerian defenders and fell over, recovering to scoop the ball square into the path of Gomez. His first shot was saved and the second headed wide, but Dempsey popped up at the back post to tap home. As he wheeled away to celebrate he turned to see the linesman’s flag had been raised; replays showed he was level with the last defender.
Algeria were creating chances of their own, having the bulk of possession over the course of ninety minutes and matching USA’s shots on target. Just before the interval Tim Howard needed to be alert in tipping Karim Matmour over the post. They would have lost this game by some margin were it not for the heroics of their goalkeeper.
Rais M’bohli decided that he was going to have the game of his life. He tipped Dempsey round the post after a defence-splitting Landon Donovan pass. He was out smartly to smother the ball at Donovan’s feet after a nice one-two with Bradley, but was grateful to see Jozy Altidore blaze the rebound high into the stands.
He was beaten early in the second half, Altidore crossing for Dempsey but the Fulham midfielder curled a shot against the post with his right, then shanked the rebound wide with his left. USA would have a total of 8 shots on target before Donovan finally made one count in the last minute.
USA surged forward and Donovan fed Altidore in down the right. He sent in a low cross along the six yard line that Donovan met but, once again, M’Bohli was out in a flash and blocked Dempsey’s shot as soon as it left his boot. Prone on the ground he could only look on in agony as Donovan stole onto the loose ball and slotted it in at the far post to send his side, and a crowd that included Bill Clinton, into raptures.
The win sets up a second round meeting with Ghana, who beat them 2-1 in the 2006 group stages, and USA will fancy their chances of progressing. By topping the group on goals scored they are in a bracket with a far easier run to the final, and while few expect them to go that far, in avoiding the likes of Germany, Argentina and Spain they have given themselves every chance.