Wednesday, June 23, 2010

USA Finishes Atop Group C with 1-0 Victory over Algeria

United States' Landon Donovan celebrates near Algeria's goalkeeper Rais Ouheb Mbouli (R) after scoring a goal during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

That picture pretty much says it all, the smile on Landon Donovan's face, the look of stunned disbelief on Rais M'Bolhi's face. Landon Donovan scored an extra time goal to secure a US victory over Algeria, a victory that ensured that the US would advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup finals. Thanks to England's 1-0 victory over Slovenia, the US won Group C on goal differential, the first time the US has won their group since 1930, the first World Cup finals ever held.

As expected, this was not an easy victory over Algeria for the US. M'Bolhi, the top keeper in Bulgaria's top flight, proved a tough obstacle, surviving 9 other shots on goal by the US. Algeria employed a conservative style, looking to make something happen on the counter attack, but the US defense meshed at the right time and Tim Howard was only bothered by 4 shots on goal.

With a win, the US advanced no matter what happened in the England-Slovenia match.

In the 21st minute it appeared that the US might have picked up the game winner when Clint Dempsey put the ball past M'Bolhi, but the goal was disallowed by a controversial offsides call. Finally, the 90th minute came and, despite numerous chances for the US, the scoreline was 0-0, while England had maintained its 1-0 lead over Slovenia. Unless the US could find a way to get the ball past M'Bolhi, they would be packing their bags on Thursday and heading home. Then it happened:

I was watching the match at Nick's Place here in Houston and the place, which was packed, erupted when Donovan scored the goal. (Note that Nick's Place wasn't even home to any of the sponsored watch parties that were being held around the city.) It's hard to describe that kind of goal, that kind of event, to someone who doesn't watch soccer, but today numerous of causal sports fans around the United States finally experienced it first hand. New fans to the sport hugged, high fived, cheered, cried, laughed . . . Driving home, I was both shocked and pleased that the US victory was the main topic of discussion on all three AM sports talk stations in the Houston market.

While it might be tempting to write about what today's victory means for the long term future of the beautiful game in the United States, I'm not going to do that. I just want to sit back and enjoy what a great day this has been.

Up next, the US faces the second place winner from Group D on Saturday at 1:30 pm central time on ABC.

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