U.S. Finds World Cup Justice, Against All Odds

AP

It wasn't Donovan that finally scored against Algeria.

It was Belief.

Belief was wearing the 2010 shirt. He was an ever-present in the side, yet his goal-scoring record had been questioned by some.

Then he ghosted in at the death of the game, sliding beyond those who had lost faith or never had it, in order to prove that his role in the team should never be questioned.

No one watching the extraordinary elimination game between the U.S and the Desert Foxes could surely have found enough faith to imagine that the U.S team would encounter just desserts.

Yet, with regulation time expired, the U.S. scored the ultimate team goal.

It began with Tim Howard, who threw the ball with the speed and intent of a closer to Landon Donovan. Donovan found Jozy Altidore on the right.

Clint Dempsey, whose lip was coursing blood after an Algerian defender had chopped him to the mouth, threw himself at Altidore's cross.

While Algeria's excellent goalkeeper M'bolhi came out to parry it, the ball rolled gently into the path of the onrushing Belief.

Belief, thy name is Donovan. Don't mess it up now. You're six yards out. The goal is gaping a lot wider than Koman Coulibaly's career possibilities.

"Time kind of stopped. You can't miss from there," said a teary Donovan after the game.

One side-foot slide into the goal and it was if an innocent man who had been found guilty had suddenly been saved by dramatic new evidence.

After all, for long periods of this game, it was if the American team was 11 Bill Clintons and the referees were all called Kenneth Starr.

The former President, seated next to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, must have been tempted to blatter him with a right cross after another vital offside call went against the Americans and erased a perfectly good goal.

Clint Dempsey was in line, if not slightly behind, the offside line. Yet the assistant referee raised his flag.

It was close, but as President Clinton might himself have offered, no cigar.

When you know you are involved in a game that includes a team that perhaps hasn't enjoyed the greatest refereeing justice over the years, you really need to get that sort of decision right.

The U.S has a very long history of World Cup refereeing injustice, going back to the 2002 quarter-finals and a visually-challenged Scottish referee called Hugh Dallas.

The bizarre and myopic call of Koman Coulibaly of Mali in last Friday's game against Slovenia was merely the latest.

Moreover, in an attempt to encourage positive football, referees are instructed to offer the attacking team the benefit of the doubt whenever an offside call is close.

This call was worse than Coulibaly's not because this was an elimination game, but because it came early in an elimination game.

This was the 21st minute.

This was scored by a team that has made an art form of conceding early goals rather scoring them.

To erase Dempsey's effort wasn't merely incompetent. It was cruel and usual.

There are surely few countries that have experienced more injustice, more often in World Cup finals than the U.S.

The U.S took the game to Algeria for all 94 minutes. They attacked with control and, sometimes, a lack of it.

Of course, as belief in Belief was rapidly dissipating, there were also some uncomfortable facts.

The U.S missed more clear chances in this game than in any other in its World Cup campaign.

In the first half, Hercules Gomez went for power, when placement would have been his friend for life.

Then, as Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore went for the same bouncing ball in the box, Altidore swung a foot, and struck a volley of such indiscipline that you wondered if the U.S. could ever find enough composure.

He was no more than five yards from glory and relief. Instead, all he added was more tension.

Then came Belief. Riding in on a horse, locks flowing, with a look that said: "You thought I wouldn't get here? Oh, ye of little faith."

One moment, obituaries were being written. Words about injustice, ill-fortune, stifled youth and hope.

The next, we're invoking the Monkees.

The Americans aren't on the Last Train to Clarksville. They're believers.


Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.

See also:

Full Coverage: World Cup 2010
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  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.

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