U.S. Rebounds From Two-Goal Deficit To Tie Slovenia

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Down two goals and heading toward an end to their World Cup, the U.S. fought back for a 2-2 tie with Slovenia today. But the tie could have been a win if a goal off a free kick in the second half wasn’t disallowed by the referee. Sports commentator Stefan Fatsis, who watched the soccer game in South Africa, talks with Michele Norris about the tournament.


At the World Cup in South Africa today, a nail biter for U.S. soccer fans. The U.S. faced Slovenia in their second game today after a tie last Saturday with England. Slovenia jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first half, but the U.S. team would claw its way back in the second half, finally settling for a 2-2 tie but only after a very controversial call.

Our own Stefan Fatsis was at the game. He joins us now from Johannesburg.

Stefan, the U.S. was heavily favored to win this game, but Slovenia almost took the game. What happened?

STEFAN FATSIS: Well, it was really a tale of two games, Michele. The first half, the U.S. was terrible, and slow starts are becoming a theme for the Americans. They gave up a quick goal to England in the game last weekend, remember?

This time against the smallest country in the tournament, population just two million - that's as many people as New Mexico - the United States absolutely was porous in the middle of the field and on defense. They allowed goals in the 13th and 42nd minutes to Slovenia. Then they made two changes in the lineup at halftime, and they came storming out.

Landon Donovan blasted in a beautiful goal from close range in the 48th minute. The coach's son, Michael Bradley, tied the game in the 82nd minute. I was sitting in the stands. There were beer showers after both goals. Pure mayhem after the second goal. It was a spectacular performance.

NORRIS: Spectacular, and then there was that controversial call after what would have been the third goal. Tell us what happened.

FATSIS: It was about a minute from the end of regulation in the game. Landon Donovan had a free kick outside of Slovenia's box. He took it. It was knocked home by Maurice Edu, who was one of the guys that came on at halftime, and everybody went nuts in the stands. And we looked down and suddenly the referee, Koman Coulibaly from Mali, he apparently had called a foul on the United States before Donovan's free kick.

Donovan said afterward, and I'm quoting him, "We asked him numerous times in a non-confrontational manner to explain his call, but he just ignored us or maybe he just didn't understand."

Now, tugging and holding is not uncommon by both teams on free kicks like this one. My friend Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated just blogged a little while ago that it was an all-time officiating blunder and even media and fans from other countries seem to agree.

NORRIS: If you were watching on TV, you saw that 2-2 score and you were waiting for it to go to three and it just didn't happen because you were trying to figure out what was going on in the field.

What does this tie mean for the U.S.?

FATSIS: Well, with Algeria tying England tonight here in South Africa, the U.S. controls its own destiny. Now, there are two teams, you need to remember, advance from each of the eight groups of four into the second round of the tournament and then it becomes a single elimination tournament.

Now, if the U.S. defeats Algeria in Pretoria next Wednesday, it moves on regardless of what happens in the other game between England and Slovenia. If the United States and Algeria tie, the United States can still advance if Slovenia beats England or, depending on goals scored or goal differential, if Slovenia and England tie.

You got it, Michele?

NORRIS: I think I got it. A chart, though, would be helpful, Stefan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: You could probably find that at our website.

Overall, this tournament started out slowly. There weren't a lot of goals scored early on, but there seems to have been much more exciting play lately.

FATSIS: Yeah, there were just 23 goals scored in the first 14 games, and that was the fewest since the World Cup went to 32 teams back in 1998. Blame was quickly placed on the unpredictable Jabulani ball on the high altitude here and on the fact that the teams are just competitive. There are no walkovers in the World Cup anymore.

I think teams were cautious in the first game. Players absolutely opened up since the second games began. There were 20 goals in the next nine games. Two huge upsets: Serbia over Germany, one to nothing today; Switzerland over Spain, one-nothing yesterday; and tonight's U.S. game, by far the most exciting of the tournament.

NORRIS: Now, for those of us who will be watching and listening over the weekend, what are the games we need to follow?

FATSIS: Well, in terms of quality teams, Brazil against the Ivory Coast on Sunday in the Group of Death is definitely the match of the weekend. The other game in that group is Portugal, North Korea, and I'm intrigued by anything involving the reclusive dictatorship because it's always guaranteed to be weird.

Did you hear this one, that the North Korean government apparently hired Chinese actors and singers to play the role of fans at their first game?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FATSIS: As for me, I'll be at the Italy-New Zealand on Sunday in the city of Nelspruit, and then I'm going to spend a couple of days in a park looking for elephants, wildebeest, springbok and maybe some lions.

NORRIS: Take care, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis, our regular sports commentator in Johannesburg, South Africa. Stefan and other NPR soccer fanatics are posting for our World Cup blog, "Show Me Your Cleats!" That's at

(Soundbite of song, "World Cup Fever")

AIR MIAMI: (Singing) Hey, hey, hey, I've got it. World Cup fever. She, she, she, she's got it. World Cup fever. I, I, I, I've got it. World Cup fever. You, you, you, you got it. World Cup fever. 5-8. 4-9.


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