Team USA overcame a two-goal deficit with an incredible rally in the second half of its match-up with Slovenia and appeared to seal the deal -- until the referee controversially nixed the Americans’ game-winning goal.
At least U.S. fans can take heart from England's scoreless tie with Algeria later Friday, which keeps Team USA's chances of advancing in the competition well alive.
Two first-half goals from Slovenia had dealt a massive blow to the USA's bright start to the 2010 World Cup.
Valter Birsa hit a spectacular long-shot that beat U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 13th minute at Ellis Park in Johannesburg which was followed up with a cool finish from Zlatan Ljubijanic who beat an offside trap by an unorganized American defense just before halftime.
Team USA went into halftime in a deep hole and with elmination from the tournament looming. But the second half brought on a dramatic change in form.
Three minutes into the second half, the U.S. came roaring back and star midfielder Landon Donovan sent a scorching shot from a difficult angle into Slovenia's goal, giving fans hope of at least a tie. The tie finally came from a strike from midfielder Michael Bradley -- coach Bob Bradley's son -- in the 81st minute.
Moments later an apparent U.S. goal was negated by a controversial foul call that replays did not support -- and referee Koman Coulibaly, of Mali, did not explain according to Yank players.
"I'm a little gutted to be honest," Donovan said, according to Fanhouse. "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."
The coaches were similarly mystified by the call.
“We still don’t know why the goal was disallowed…Noone knows. It is important to understand that the players put a lot of emotion into the game and now they want a fair outcome,” coach Bradley said, Reuters reported.
The result will have an important impact on Team USA's chances of advancing in the tournament: A win would have put the USA in prime position to make it to the knock-out round while a loss would likely have sent them home early. A tie means the U.S. still has something to play for when they face Algeria.
The high scoring game matched the pace of second round games of the group phase where teams have scored early and often.
Both teams came into the match riding a wave of momentum and confidence after the US achieved an unlikely draw against England and Slovenia won against Algeria -- putting the Eastern European nation in pole position in Group C with three points.
Team USA was favored to win against Slovenia which boasts a tough defensive line which allowed just four goals in the qualifiers for the World Cup. USA, the biggest nation in the tournament is ranked 14th in the latest FIFA rankings, while Slovenia, the smallest nation is ranked 25th.
The USA vs. England game last Saturday drew record viewership numbers.
Wednesday's matchup with Algeria is make or break for Team USA. The Americans can assure their spot in the second round with an outright win; a tie and England's loss to Solvenia; or a tie and an English tie as long as the U.S. leads in the number of goals scored in the first round.