The U.S. soccer team was denied the go-ahead goal by the referee late in Friday's 2-2 World Cup draw with Slovenia in Johannesburg. With Algeria's surprising 0-0 tie against England later Friday in Cape Town, it leaves all four teams in Group C still with a chance to advance.
Because Slovenia escaped with a 2-2 tie against the U.S. soccer team here in Johannesburg, the smallest nation playing in this World Cup maintains its lead in Group C after two matches.
But a questionable call by the referee near the end of the game took what appeared to be the likely game-winning goal away from the United States.
The Americans found themselves in a hole early in the match, just like the previous game against England when they yielded an early goal. However, they also gave up a second tally to Slovenia and trailed 2-0 at the intermission.
But all-time leading U.S. scorer Landon Donovan found the net early in the second half to make it 2-1, and midfielder Michael Bradley - coach Bob Bradley's son - got the equalizer in the 82nd minute.
U.S. team captain Carlos Bocanegra said the team had had a serious talk at halftime about what they needed to do to get back in the game. "Individually we all knew we needed to raise our level, and collectively as a group we went out and did that in the second half and I think it showed," he said.
But it was a call by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly in the 86th minute that had players, fans and analysts alike shaking their heads in disbelief. Donovan sent a high-arching free kick toward the goal that second-half substitute Maurice Edu knocked into the net.
But Coulibaly blew his whistle just as the play unfolded and disallowed the goal. There had been no offside signal from the assistant referee, and television replays from virtually every angle offered few explanations. In fact, it appeared three Slovenian players had had their arms wrapped around Americans.
Boncaegra said he and his teammates were stunned. "I didn't see much," he said. "I was in a headlock on that play unfortunately. From what I've seen on the replays now, there were a few other guys [teammates] who were being grabbed. We asked the ref what was the foul. Who did it? And he had zero explanation for us, so that's a bit frustrating."
Edu, who thought he had scored the crucial go-ahead goal for the USA, explained how he saw it. "The ball went over a couple people and found its way to me, and I just tapped it in," he said. "I took off running, getting ready to celebrate, and the next thing I know the ref is calling it back. So it was disappointing definitely because I really thought it was a goal and I thought it was a moment I would be able to remember for awhile. And so emotions were kind of high and low real quick, from real excitement and pure joy to, I guess, disappointment."
Because Algeria played England to a scoreless draw in the other Group C match Friday, the United States would have sealed a berth in the second round if they had beaten Slovenia, 3-2.
Instead, Slovenia, which beat Algeria in its opener (1-0), leads the group with four points. The U.S. and England each have two points after playing to a (1-1) draw against one another in their first game, and Algeria has one point.
It means all four teams remain alive for the two Group C berths available in the next round.
Simply, the U.S. soccer team will advance with a win over Algeria on Wednesday in Pretoria. Algeria goes forward with a win. The winner of the Slovenia-England game the same day in Port Elizabeth is assured of advancing.
A number of different scenarios could happen if one of the matches has a winner and the other is a tie, or if both matches are drawn. Tiebreakers would then likely come into play to determine the top two teams.