Birsa 13, Ljubijankic 42
UNITED STATES 1
Donovan 48, Bradley 82
The United States came from two goals down at half time to snatch a draw against Slovenia. Goals from Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley denied the Slovenians qualification for the next round, after Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljubijankic appeared to have won them the game.
Slovenia started brightly and deservedly went ahead after 13 minutes. Birsa curled a beautiful left foot strike right into the top corner from 25 yards, leaving Tim Howard rooted to the spot. Birsa inadvertently came close 10 minutes later when his 45 yard freekick swung all the way through to Howard who had to save low at his right-hand post. Francisco Torres came closest for United States before the break, his 36th minute freekick from the right forcing Samir Handanovic to tip smartly round his near post. Clint Dempsey then fired a low cross along the face of goal but Miso Brecko just got a touch away with Donovan lurking at the far post. Moments later it was 2-0 after a fast Slovenian break started by Brecko’s burst through the middle. Milivoje Novakovic slipped through Ljubijankic who calmly slotted past Howard.
It took Donovan less than three minutes to halve the deficit after half time. Bostjan Cesar slipped as he tried to clear and Donovan pounced, cutting in from the right flank and lashing into the roof of the net from a tight angle. The Americans were piling the pressure on Slovenia as they went in search of a second goal but they were unable to really test Handanovic. Jozy Altidore fired straight into Handanovic’s midriff after Donovan’s freekick rebounded to him on the edge of the area. Moments later, Benny Feilhaber got his head to another freekick but it was easily held by the keeper. The equaliser eventually came with nine minutes left, when Bradley arrived late in the box to poke home Altidore’s knock down after a long ball was hoisted into the area. Maurice Edu had the ball in the net five minutes from time but it was disallowed. A freekick was played into the six yard box where Edu prodded home but the referee deemed there had been an infringement.
The United States made one change to their team following the draw against England with Torres replacing Ricardo Clark. The thinking behind the selection was that Torres possesses greater ability on the ball and has more of a creative streak than the industrious Clark. This suggested that the Americans believed Slovenia could be opened up but it was the Slovenians who cut through the American spine with success in the first half. Torres looked off the pace and was sloppy in possession, negating the purpose of having him in the side. His effort from the freekick that forced Handanovic into a save was well struck but it was little surprise to see Coach Bob Bradley replace him at half time with Maurice Edu.
Slovenia were much the better organised team in the first half, sticking rigidly to two banks of four when the United Stated had possession. Their display was an excellent example on how to organise a solid defensive shape without resorting to being overly negative, and they looked just as good going forward. Having disappointed greatly in their opening match against Algeria where they completely lacked any attacking ambition, Slovenia were a completely different prospect at Ellis Park. If Birsa’s goal owed more to a piece of individual brilliance, Ljubijankic’s was a real team goal. Right-back Brecko made an excellent burst through the middle, before Novakovic played a perfectly timed pass for Ljubijankic. It was a poor piece of defending by the Americans, with Oguchi Onyewu – who played Ljubijankic onside – several yards deeper than a narrow line of three other defenders.
The Americans deserve credit for believing they could claw back the two-goal deficit, with Bradley making a double change at halftime. Taking off striker Robbie Findley and replacing him with a midfielder might have looked a negative change but it freed up Donovan and Dempsey to get further forward whilst the reinforced midfield were able to compete better against their Slovenian counterparts. Altidore was a different player after the break, using his pace and power to cause problems across the Slovenia defence. He needs a goal to bring back the confidence he has lost after two fruitless seasons playing club football in Spain and England but he has the physical attributes of a young Emile Heskey. Whilst the United States were still unable to create too many openings, they were relentless in their efforts and eventually got the goal they were looking for. It will be interesting to hear what their late winner was chalked off for as there appeared to be nothing wrong with Edu’s effort.
The result plays perfectly into the hands of England who will go top of Group C if they beat Algeria tonight by two goals, with Slovenia still to play in the final match. The Slovenians were minutes away from booking their place in the Round of 16, with a victory putting them on an unassailable six points after two games. Instead, their fate will not be decided until the final matches on Wednesday. The United States know that a victory in their final match with Algeria will be enough if there is a winner in the England vs. Slovenia game, whatever the result in the England vs. Algeria game this evening.
Slovenia – S Handanovic, Brecko, Suler, Cesar, Jokic, Koren, Kirm, Radosavljevic, Ljubijankic (73) (Komac 90+4)), Birsa (Dedic 87), Novakovic
United States – Howard, Bocanegra, Onyewu (Gomez 80), Cherundolo, DeMerit, Bradley, Dempsey, Torres (Edu 46), Donovan, Altidore, Findley (Feilhaber 46)