By Matt O'Leary
Special to CSNNE.com
Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg was the fourth stadium I was visiting after being able to see games at Soccer City, Pretoria, and Rustenburg. Considering Ellis Parks location is close to downtown Joburg and that nearby Soccer City Stadium had been so unorganized, I was expecting an impending disaster getting to and from the game.
Fortunately, we found signs for a park-and-ride and although we didnt have the necessary parking pass, we were able to bribe one of the parking attendants 100 Rand (about 15) to let us park. The South Africans were organized with commuter buses and minibuses and we got inside the stadium grounds at 1:30 local time, 2 hours before kickoff. The Germany-Serbia game which started at 1:30 was being played on a big screen just outside the stadium and there was probably five hundred fans that had converged together to watch the Germans get upset 1-0.
Inside the ground there was a great atmosphere in the build up to the game. The colorful American supporters far outnumbered their Slovenian counterparts, but the Slovenian fans had seemed to find each other and were making their presence felt. U-S-A was the most consistent chant from the U.S. fans, and there was even a rendition of God Bless America from a section next to us. Despite the Slovenians taking an early lead, the American support remained loud and optimistic. The USA team just could not get anything going in the first 25-30 minutes, but then piled the pressure on Slovenia to close out the half.
Late in the first half, completely against the run of play, the Slovenians cashed in on a midfield mistake by Michael Bradley and ran at the disjointed U.S. backline before Zlatan Ljubijankic slotted in to take a 2-0 lead. Talking to Americans in the packed bathroom at halftime, they were shocked to be behind but still optimistic that the team had created enough chances in the first half to believe the team could score two in the final 45 minutes.
Bob Bradley was spot on with his halftime substitutions. Robbie Findley had been ineffective and seemed out of his depth up front and Torres had been struggling against the Slovenian midfield. Edu and Feilhaber came in and played strong second halves, particularly Edu who acted as the link between the defense and midfield.
After Landon Donovan fired in a memorable goal in the 47th minute, the stage was set for the second half to be the most exciting I had seen in my six matches here in South Africa. The USA fans were on their feet every time the team pushed into Slovenias half. There was the feeling that if they scored the equalizer, they would be able to push on and gain the 3-2 win.
Of course, that is precisely what should have happened. The stadium erupted when Maurice Edu volleyed in what looked like the go-ahead goal in the 85th minute. The fans around me were still cheering even once the ball was back in play. There was no offside flag, no apparent foul, yet the goal was disallowed and American fans all across the stadium had their hands on their heads asking the same question - What was wrong with that goal?
Without any major chances in the final five minutes, the final score left both teams with an opportunity to advance from Group C. The USA can advance to the second round with a win over Algeria, regardless of what happens in the other group game. Also, the USA can still advance with a tie against Algeria but they would need the English to get no better than a tie against Slovenia in Cape Town. The two games will be played at the same time, and all four teams still have an opportunity to advance.
No result is a foregone conclusion considering that England made Algeria look more like Argentina than the 31st ranked team in the World. The Algerians will know that they can still advance with a win over the USA so the Americans cannot afford to take them lightly. It will be a tense afternoon next Wednesday but both group favorites England and USA can take heart in knowing that they will advance together if they win their final group games.