U.S. Advances In World Cup After Late Goal

Robert Siegel talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about Landon Donovan's goal in stoppage time against Algeria on Wednesday, allowing the U.S. to advance to the second round of soccer's World Cup. The 1-0 win put the U.S. in first place in its group, just ahead of England, which also advanced after its 1-0 win over Slovenia.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

With a flick of his right foot, Landon Donovan kept the U.S. alive in the World Cup today. His goal at the very end of the game, in the 91st minute, clinched a one-nothing victory over Algeria. And that saved the U.S. from elimination and put the team into the next round of World Cup play.

NPR's Mike Pesca has been covering the World Cup and he joins us now from South Africa. Welcome, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

SIEGEL: And what a game that was today. I want you to recap that very exciting ending for people.

PESCA: Well, it was exciting because it was excruciating. Ninety minutes and no score. And it became apparent 20 minutes into the game that the United States would indeed need to score or else they were going home. And coming into the game they had a slight lead in England in terms of tie breakers. But then about 20 minutes into England's game with Slovenia, England put up a score, so it became apparent the United States would have to find a way to put the ball into the goal, and that wasn't going to be an easy thing.

And about the time the 90th minute rolled around, before extra time was added, people in the stands, they just began ruing various officials bad calls the one that took away Maurice Edu's goal last game, an off-side call against Clint Dempsey this game. Then we found out later that he probably wasn't off sides.

So it looked as if the United States might be going home based on an injustice. But, you know what, Landon Donovan, the best player the United States has ever produced, I think that's a fair statement, he kept his head about him. He did not panic, neither did his teammates. He got a rebound and put it into the back of the goal and the United States is going on to the knockout round.

SIEGEL: You mentioned the complaints about the officiating. What is it about the officiating in the World Cup? These games are nothing-nothing, or one-nothing, a bad call, and that's the whole game.

PESCA: Right. Sure, although, let's ask Armando Galarraga what he thought of James Joyce's bad call in baseball and, of course, perennial topic in football. I mean, officiating, which is a tough and subjective thing, always gets criticized. Now, there has been - there seems to be some really bad officiating going on in the World Cup, especially the disallowed goal that would've put the USA up 3-2 against Slovenia.

And that referee, he's not working any more games in the tournament. So at least we could say that FIFA responded after the fact. The good and some of these things, they are just parts of soccer. I mean, every team, every club team, every national team can rue an off-side call that the replay shows maybe shouldn't have been an off side, certainly part of the game.

You know, the great thing about the injustices visited upon the United States in this tournament is that we can absorb them into the national psyche and yet we still get to play. So it's not like in the 1986 World Cup where Maradona put one in against the English with his hand the so-called hand-of-god goal. Well, the English went home.

And when Henri, the Frenchman, punched a ball into the goal against Ireland to qualify for this World Cup, which, you know, looking back, maybe the French should never have done, given how their World Cup went.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Those teams have been eliminated. The United States plays on. And we're learning as a culture a little more about the subjectivity of soccer.

SIEGEL: Okay. The U.S. plays on. How good is this team? Could it actually win the World Cup?

PESCA: I think we could say that they have a very good goalie, that their coach has proved to make good decisions. He made good substitutions today. I think we could say in Landon Donovan they have a world class player. He had not been great in European play, but this year, on a loaner to an English premier league team he was good.

And Donovan has just provided the most important goals, has made crosses and been involved in every great play. The United State isn't the Netherlands or Brazil or Argentina, but they're a tough out in this tournament. And whoever they play coming up, they're going to have their hands full because the United States is a tough, disciplined team that plays with teamwork.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.

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