THE USA were denied one of the great World Cup comebacks when Mali referee Koman Coulibaly ruled out a dramatic last-gasp winner against plucky Slovenia at Ellis Park.
Mali don’t often feature at the top level of football. But Coulibaly will certainly grab a few headlines in the morning. Quite how he disallowed America’s 86th minute winner from Maurice Edu, I’m not sure. Suffice to say there was plenty of pushing and shoving going on. Mostly by desperate Slovenians.
Here then, after the best game of the World Cup so far, the best quotes of the tournament, from the USA’s best player, Landon Donovan.
Man of the match Donovan, who scored the USA’s first and thought he’d made the clincher for Edu in the 86th minute, said: “I’m a little gutted to be honest, I don’t know how they stole that goal from us. That’s too bad, it was a fair goal I think. I saw a good finish and a good goal. The referee wouldn’t tell us what the call was. We asked but he wouldn’t say.
“It was the guy’s first World Cup game. Maybe he got caught up in the moment. You can’t take away a good goal from a team. In a World Cup that’s disappointing.
“At half-time, 2-0 down, we said if we don’t believe it, there’s no point in going back out there. We know we’re good enough. We’re still alive. We’ll see how the England game goes. We can’t keep putting ourselves in a hole like that. If we win against Algeria we should still go through. Emotionally we have to get ourselves up again.
“But you know I’m proud of our guys. I’m not sure there are many teams who would respond in that way after going 2-0 down.”
Everton boss David Moyes, who had Donovan on loan last season, said on the BBC: "I've just seen that disallowed goal again - and not only was there no foul by a US player, there are probably two penalty-kick offences being committed by the Slovenian defenders. Shocking decision."
England don’t kick off for another three hours and already I’m exhausted. Just told local listeners on South Africa’s 702 radio they cannot turn their back on their country after Bafana Bafana’s 3-0 defeat against Uruguay. And the callers came on, embarrassed they had left Loftus Versfeld early the other night.
Don’t worry, if England lose against Algeria tonight, I’ll be sorely tempted. Got to do BBC Radio 5 tonight, hope it’s a cheerful occasion. Then Detroit’s WJR at 6.40am Eastern time tomorrow across 17 American states.
Will I make it? Phew. After Serbia’s dramatic 1-0 win over Germany, the Slovenians kept us glued to our seats.
They started with a 13th minute rocket from Valter Birsa, the first undeflected goal from distance at this World Cup, using the ultra-light Jabulani ball. After sustained American pressure, they produced a second, a lovely Zlatan Ljubijankic finish which looked offside but wasn’t - quite.
Donovan put the Americans right back in the game with a great strike into the roof of the net from the narrowest of angles just three minutes into the second half. The World Cup’s smallest side, Slovenia (population 2.3m) were hanging on against the biggest, the USA (pop 3.2m) but remember, the tiny mountainous nation, the northernmost of the old Yugoslavian federations, generally consider skiing to be their national sport.
But the miracle couldn’t last. The US levelled through Michael Bradley, son of coach Bob, and it was game on as the Americans went crazy – some of their fans, the most numerous here, burst into tears in the chilly Ellis Park stands.
This was where South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, where Nelson Mandela’s support inspired the Hollywood movie Invictus. And as if this one too was scripted, with the Americans playing an incredibly offensive 3-4-3 formation, in came Edu to score with four minutes left on the clock. But it was disallowed by Koulibaly, who had been handing out yellow cards like confetti. Was it off-side? Was it a foul? I guess we will never know. But we know this. The World Cup was denied its greatest moment so far.
Jozy Altidor and both Bradley’s were losing it with the novice Mali referee. And English fans were celebrating. A draw is probably the best result they could have hoped for. If Fabio Capello’s men beat Algeria tonight. But that’s a sizeable IF.
Neal Collins is in South Africa to promote his first novel A GAME APART, the real story behind the 2010 World Cup. For more information, see www.nealcollins.co.uk.
To see the two goals that rocked America, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHYlWHrVcG0