PRETORIA, South Africa -- Over and over, everything seemedto go against them.
A referee took away a win last week, and a linesman disallowedanother goal Wednesday.
Now there was just 3½ minutes left in their World Cup, just thatmuch remaining until all the doubts about American soccer wouldrise again.
But then, in one of the most stunning turnarounds in World Cuphistory, Landon Donovan scored on a lightning fast counterattack 45seconds into 4 minutes of injury time. With the most amazinglate-game moment in American soccer, the United States beat Algeria1-0 Wednesday and reached the World Cup's second round, winning agroup for the first time since 1930.
"This team embodies what the American spirit is about,"Donovan said. "We had a goal disallowed the other night, We hadanother good goal disallowed tonight. But we just keep going. And Ithink that's what people admire so much about Americans. And I'mdamn proud."
Former President Bill Clinton lingered in the locker room for 45minutes after the game to congratulate the players. When Donovanscored, raucous cheers erupted on the floor of the New York StockExchange and even in White House auditoriums in Washington, D.C.,according to e-mails sent to U.S. Soccer Federation president SunilGulati.
The win, the first World Cup victory for the U.S. in eightyears, gave the Americans first place in Group C with just itsfifth shutout in World Cup play. The United States (1-0-2) willface the runner-up in Group D on Saturday.
Donovan brought the ball upfield on a counterattack and JozyAltidore's shot on the breakaway was tipped by Clint Dempsey intogoalkeeper Rais Bolihi. The rebound went to Donovan, who kicked itin from about 8 yards for one of the biggest goals in U.S. soccerhistory.
"I've been through a lot in the last four years," Donovan saidhalf an hour after the end, crying and his voice cracked. "I'm soglad it culminated this way. When you try to do things the rightway, it's good to get rewarded."
While he was speaking underneath the stands in the interviewroom, American fans were still in the stadium, waving flags andblowing vuvuzelas in celebration.
After his U.S. record 44th international goal, Donovan joyouslyran to the corner flag, sliding headfirst in a belly flop, and histeammates ran down the touchline to mob him. Donovan was in tearswhen the game ended and the United States had moved into the secondround.
"Clint made a good run in the middle, the ball fell to me ...time kind of stopped," Donovan said. "You can't miss fromthere."
As the final whistle sounded, the U.S. bench raced onto thefield and piled on top of the players on the far sideline. Atmidfield, Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit collapsed to the ground.They all bearhugged Donovan, who with his fourth World Cup goaltied Bert Patenaude (1930) as the American leader.
"That was a really special feeling," U.S. coach Bob Bradleysaid. "These guys put a lot into it, they never quit.
"We're proud. We finished first in our group. Five points,didn't lose a match. So we're ready."
As the team returned to the sideline, goalkeeper Tim Howardbounced up and down in elation. Benny Feilhaber took a water bottleand sprayed his teammates, champagne-like.
"We're not done yet," Donovan said. "We believe, man. We'realive, baby."
England (1-0-2), which beat Slovenia moments earlier, also hadfive points but finished second because the U.S. scored four goalsto two for the English. Slovenia (1-1-1) was third with fourpoints, missing advancing because of Donovan's heroics. Algeria(0-2-1) was last with one point.
Until Donovan's goal, it appeared the officiating would again bethe focus.
Dempsey put the ball in the net in the 21st minute off therebound of Herculez Gomez's shot. But the goal was called offside,just as Maurice Edu's late goal was disallowed against Slovenialast week, a score that would have given the Americans a victory.Replays appeared to show Dempsey was onside.
Dempsey had another great chance in the 57th minute when MichaelBradley stole the ball and sent Altidore streaking down the rightside. Altidore crossed, but Dempsey's hit the goalpost. He shotwide on the rebound.
Howard earned the first shutout in World Cup play for the U.S.since the 2-0 victory over Mexico in the second round in 2002.
The U.S. kept up its pattern of good and bad World Cups. TheAmericans were knocked out in the first round in 1990, 1998 and2006, but went to the second round in 1994 and reached thequarterfinals in 2002.
With Clinton watching from the stands at Loftus Versfeld, apro-American, vuvuzela-blowing crowd filled the old rugby stadium.Donovan and Dempsey all had numerous chances in the first half buteither misfired or were stopped by Bolhi.
Bob Bradley revamped his lineup in an effort to add speed.Jonathan Bornstein, the American player most maligned by fans,started at left back. Captain Carlos Bocanegra shifted from theleft to the center, with the coach sitting center back OguchiOnyewu. Edu started in central midfield in place of Jose Torres andGomez, who made the World Cup roster in a surprise, started atforward for Robbie Findley, suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Algeria was making its third World Cup appearance followingfirst-round elimination in 1982 and 1986. Algeria was the fourthAfrican team to exit the first World Cup on African soil, withCameroon, Nigeria and host South Africa already eliminated.
"I think that Africa is on the right road," coach RabahSaadane said. "What we need in our national teams and squads isstability and a lot of discipline, and I think in a few years time,Africa will have among the best teams in the world."
The U.S. had eight shots on goal to three for Algeria, and theAmericans were on the edge until the very end.
Finally, though, Donovan connected.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times