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Historic U.S. World Cup win erased by awful referee call

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Jamie Trecker

Jamie Trecker is the Senior Editor for A working journalist for 25 years, he covers the Champions League, European soccer and the world game. Follow him on Twitter.


The United States wuz robbed.

Fans and players of the national team are livid tonight after it had a World Cup win turned into a draw because of a questionable call by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly in the 86th minute, wiping out what appeared to be a perfectly good and pivotal goal by Maurice Edu against Slovenia.

USA vs Slovenia

USA vs. Slovenia

The United States faces a tough Eastern European foe in its World Cup clash with Slovenia at Ellis Park in Johannsesburg.

The ref's decision also cost the United States a slice of soccer history; in 80 years, no team had ever rallied from a two-goal deficit at halftime to win a World Cup game.

According to Landon Donovan, the referee even refused to explain what the foul was assessed for after the game (referees are not required to explain their decisions to reporters or players at the World Cup).

"I'm a little gutted to be honest," Donovan said. "I don't know how they stole that last goal from us. ... I'm not sure what the call was. He (the referee) wouldn't tell us what the call was."

Replays showed that Edu was not offside, and while there was pushing and shoving in the box, it was coming from both teams.

The incident left American players outraged, with captain Carlos Bocanegra having to escort a loudly complaining Jozy Altidore to the touchline after the game’s end. Members of the American retinue pleaded their case to the fourth official, Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh, who was having none of it.

Even U.S. coach Bob Bradley was left bewildered.

"I still don't know why the goal was disallowed," Bradley said. "Nobody knows at this moment."

The incident came after a series of group stage games that had been remarkable for the lack of controversy. But today, two games at the World Cup were decided with a little help from the man in the middle. Germany and Serbia endured a card-ridden match at the hands of Spaniard Alberto Undiano -- with the Serbs scoring the game's only goal shortly after after Germany's Miroslave Klose was issued a red card in the 37th minute -- before the USA kicked off.

The mistakes went both ways this afternoon at Ellis Park; the Americans could have seen Clint Dempsey ejected after only 30 seconds when he elbowed Slovenia’s Zlatan Ljubijankic in the head. The elbow didn’t appear to be intentional, but it was the type of foul referees typically caution. Jay DeMerit could have also picked up a card for elbowing Aleksander Radosavljevic in the back when the two were jockeying on a restart.

The referee’s reluctance to card those fouls made the one he did give less explicable; Robbie Findley will miss the next match after he was cautioned for handling the ball. Replays showed clearly that the ball went to hand, not the reverse, and should not have been penalized as it was not intentional.

But it’s the denial of the apparent winning goal that will remain the talking point. If the goal was disallowed for offside, it’s simply a blown call, the kind that can happen at speed. If it was disallowed for a foul in the box, then it’s a certified bad call, and cannot go unpunished by FIFA’s refereeing oversight committee.

The Americans, of course, did not lose two points solely thanks to the referee.

Three big mistakes were made in the match on both sides of the ball, and all three led to goals. The Americans went down 2-0 at the half thanks to a great goal by Valter Birsa, and coughed up the second when Ljubijankic caught the defense flat to beat the trap. The Slovenes also were shown to be frail, and coughed the ball up to Donovan for the American’s first goal in the 48th minute. That sparked the comeback which at least was enough to save a point and keep American hopes of advancing very much alive.

That the USA largely outplayed the Slovenes wasn’t rewarded on the scoreboard today. Depth, defense and a lack of midfield control — the same issues American fans knew this team had coming into the Cup — were all factors in today’s result.

Nonetheless, American fans are rightly furious tonight. They will feel that on the balance, this was a game they had won, only to draw.


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