“It was one of those games when the ball just didn’t want to go in.” That familiar lament is one the USA players were probably preparing to utter as their must-win match with Algeria went into injury time. Fortunately for the North Americans it did not turn out to be one of those games, with Landon Donovan prodding home from close range to send Bob Bradley’s men through to the Round of 16 of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
“You do have days where you think it’s never going to go over the line, no matter how hard you try. Today, luckily it did,” the goal hero said afterwards, fresh from the team receiving a congratulatory visit from former US President Bill Clinton. “In fact I always felt as if we would score sooner or later.”
The Americans sent in no fewer than 21 shots on the Algerian goal and finally broke through one minute into stoppage time when Jozy Altidore’s low shot was pushed into the path of the onrushing Donovan by Desert Fox keeper Rais M’Bolhi. All the Los Angeles Galaxy man had to do was stroke the ball over the line.
“I don’t know how the ball even came to me to tell you the truth,” admitted the match-winning attacking midfielder. “It all happened so quickly, which was just as well because I didn’t have time to think at all. It was a spontaneous reaction and I just did what anyone else would do.”
Too much to bear
Though the 1-0 scoreline might suggest otherwise, this was one of the more entertaining encounters of the competition so far, with a succession of chances being created at both ends, most of them being carved out by the Stars and Stripes. And there was a very good reason for that urgency in attack. With England leading Slovenia 1-0 in Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, a goalless draw would have sent both sides out of the competition.
“There was pressure on both sides,” US goalkeeper Tim Howard told FIFA.com following his side’s great escape. “The second half didn’t seem like a football match at all. Everyone was running and fighting as hard as they could to get the goal. In a game like this it’s always good to get the first goal, because caution had already been thrown well and truly to the wind.”
The pressure was especially intense on the USA forwards, with so many chances coming their way. “Tell me about it,” a relieved Jozy Altidore said with a smile. “I can’t even imagine how I would have felt [had we not won], though I tried not to think about it because I knew we’d end up scoring. I just didn’t want to feel responsible for us missing out on a place in the next round.”
In the end the drama only added to the USA’s elation at squeezing through, a feeling that Donovan will clearly never forget: “Make no mistake, it’s the biggest moment of my career.”