The stadium hummed with vuvuzelas before referee, Koman Coulibaly, blew his whistle to signal readiness for the ensuing free kick. Donovan curled the ball into the six yard box where Maurice Edu popped up ready to right his name in American soccer folk-lore. The whistle blew again momentarily before Edu slotted the ball into the back of the net. There had been a foul within the box… resulting in a Slovenian free kick, a stunned American public and a share of the points at full time.
While the goal may have been wiped out the belief within the USA camp is still as strong as ever. The result leaves the United States with a lot of work left to do still in the final group fixture against the Algerians. Level with England on two points respectively, the match against the Desert Foxes has become a must win if they are to secure qualification to the knockout rounds. History will not be on their side though as they head into their final match of group C. Looking back to the 2006 World Cup, the Americans were faced with the same circumstance they face today… win or go home. Four years ago they went head-to-head with Ghana and heart-wrenchingly lost 2-1 to be eliminated.
Their opponents this time will not be giving up without a fight either. After battling their way to an impressive 0-0 draw with England last week, Rabah Saadane’s men go into the match knowing a win could sneak them through, depending on the other result in group C. In the first ever meeting between the two sides the stakes could not be higher for either team and Bob Bradley will not welcome the news surrounding the impressive partnership between strikers, Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley. After collecting his second yellow card in as many matches, Findley will now be suspended for the game, while Altidore has missed every training session since their match against Slovenia.
Good news though is that Bradley has been reassured Altidore will be over his illness in time for their must-win match. Another bonus will have been the sight of Tim Howard making it through another 90 minutes of football. Having survived a crunching tackle with England’s Emile Heskey, the Everton stopper was injected with painkillers before the Slovenia game and was then stunned by a spectacular goal from Valter Birsa. After getting over this shock, Howard went on to produce a fine performance and will no doubt keep fans’ hopes alive for a clean sheet against the Algerians.
Bradley will also have been pleased with the second half performance from his squad on Friday. Having been dominated by Slovenia in the opening 45 minutes, a team united appeared for the second half and a great all round effort showed what potential is hidden within the USA camp. One particular shining light will have been Michael Bradley, son of the coach, Bob. After a successful start to his career in which he has had stellar seasons scoring regularly from midfield for both, Eredivisie side Heerenveen and the Bundesliga team, Borussia Monchengladbach, he showed first hand on Friday why he has been attracting interest from big European clubs. Illustrating an array of passes, determination, shooting ability and footballing IQ, he scored the second goal in the American’s crucial 2-2 draw.
England meanwhile is he other “big” team in the United States’ group and will line up against the front runners of Group C, Slovenia, who hold a two point lead over Fabio Cappello and Bradley’s teams. If they were to do the no-longer-quite-so-unthinkable and upset England it would mean the USA needed only a draw to qualify. Bradley will not be following England’s lead though and knows the Algerians are not to be underestimated. He summed up the feeling around the camp better than anyone though as he said: “Algeria are a team that has a way of getting a lot of numbers behind the ball, but they are still talented going forward with some of the skill and physical abilities of key individuals.”
“Everything is to be played for.”