U.S. Advances After Late Goal Against Algeria

The United States has moved on to the next round of the World Cup in stunningly dramatic fashion. A goal by Landon Donovan in the 91st minute gave the Americans a 1-0 victory over Algeria. The team was only a few moments from elimination. A tie would have knocked the U.S. out of the tournament.

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In the World Cup, the United States beat Algeria yesterday in the final game of group play, putting the USA through to the second round. An dramatic goal at the end was the game's only score.

From South Africa, NPR's Mike Pesca reports.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air...

MIKE PESCA: They sang the anthem. They sang "When the Yanks Go Marching In." They sang "Ole, Ole, Ole." They pogoed and partied in Pretoria, 500 fans remaining almost an hour after Landon Donovan had put their team into the knockout round. Bridgette Gonzales of Los Angeles was kind of excited.

Ms. BRIDGETTE GONZALES: Finally! (unintelligible) we get to the goal. Never give up hope. If you're an American, you never give up hope.

PESCA: But during the game, as the clock ticked toward the 90th minute, there were looks of consternation under the red, white and blue face paint. It's a weird thing to see someone in a stovepipe hat and an Uncle Sam beard tensely squeeze his fists, as if the more he tightened, the more he could wrench that one bit of goal-scoring magic that alluded the Americans all game.

The team had plenty of chances, but the ball would be struck right at the Algerian keeper, or pretty crosses would skitter away inches from a forward's foot. Actually, the U.S. did score in the first half, as ESPN described it.

(Soundbite of ESPN broadcast)

Unidentified Man #1: And again, and yes, it's in. Clint Dempsey - but it's going to be disallowed, called off-side. And the cheers are still in the throats of the massive American support here.

PESCA: Fans at the game suspected they were wrong, but were not provided with a replay. Instead, the in-stadium screens cut to a shot of Bill Clinton looking a bit pained, maybe wondering what the definition of off-sides is.

This was all too much. After the injustice of a disallowed goal against Slovenia, would the Americans be cursing and ruing instead of ah-ing and oo-ing? The Algerians had to win, too, yet they seemed content just to frustrate the U.S., never opening themselves up. Time ticked on, and half a country away, the English established a lead in their game and held on. By the time that game was over, the announcers on the South African Broadcasting Company assumed England had finished first in the group.

(Soundbite of SABC broadcast)

Unidentified Man #2: England have answered their critics. It wasn't a particularly outstanding performance, but England have got out their group, and it looks like they could well have won the group, as well.

PESCA: But during injury time, the period when the referee can concede a few more minutes of hope, the USA's best player, Landon Donovan, came through. Jozy Altidore on the left side sent a fine cross toward the goal. The Algerian keeper played it, but was met by one of his backs and Clint Dempsey. In basketball, this would be called crashing the boards, and Dempsey's efforts seemed to keep the ball alive. ESPN had the call.

(Soundbite of ESPN broadcast)

Unidentified Man #3: Cross - and Dempsey's done it again. And Donovan has scored. Oh, can you believe this? Go! Go! USA!

PESCA: Afterwards, Donovan told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap that his teammates had brushed off lousy refereeing and were unphased by adversity.

(Soundbite of ESPN broadcast)

Mr. LANDON DONOVAN (Professional Soccer Player, Team USA): We embody what Americans are about. We can moan about it, or we can get on with it. And we kept going, and we believed, man.

Mr. JEREMY SCHAAP (Sports Reporter, ESPN): You're alive.

Mr. DONOVAN: We're alive, baby.

PESCA: And there was Coach Bob Bradley, a man for whom the word understated is an understatement, positively emoting.

Mr. BOB BRADLEY (Coach, Team USA): A lot of emotion, man. These guys put a lot into it. They never quit. You know, we were pushing hard for a goal. It made for a wide-open game, but, you know, we knew we needed to win.

PESCA: And because they did, the USA next faces Ghana, likely to be the only African team still playing in this African World Cup. And U.S. fans just might keep singing till Saturday.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...and the home of the brave.

PESCA: Mike Pesca, NPR News, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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