Donovan draws on moral compass to steer USA through
LANDON DONOVAN (below) hardly had the look of a man who had just scored an injury-time winner to carry his country into the last 16 of a World Cup.
Eyes closed, as though replaying the moment over and over again, savouring every last drop of emotion, when he spoke his throat was clenched, his words punctuated by pauses to hold off the onset of tears.
"I have been through a lot in the past four years," he said, slowly, deliberately. He has been through a lot in the last two weeks. The elation of drawing with England, the blind rage of seeing legitimate goals discounted against Slovenia at Ellis Park and here, against Algeria, and finally the unbounded joy of topping Group C, the Group of Death, in the last minute.
"It makes me believe in right and morals, that if you try to do things in the right way, you will see them rewarded," he said.
"There have been two low points. Football-wise, it was just after the 2006 World Cup, and on a personal level, it was July last year. But these experiences harden you and you learn from them. I am just so happy it culminated in this way." Hardly surprising. He had been through a lot in the previous 94 minutes, too, his goal, after 92 of them, coming after chance after chance.
Few teams could have deserved that goal, that moment of pure ecstasy, made all the sweeter by the anticipation, more than the United States. Few players deserved it more than Donovan.
Not just because of his contribution to this performance, nor for his contribution to a tournament in which he has been the outstanding player of an intriguing, though hardly thrilling, group.
No, he deserved it for what he has proved in the last six months. His spell in the Premier League with Everton, taking to the world's self-styled best league with immediate aplomb, proved he is a genuine star, not just a passable American counterfeit.
Likewise, his atonement for his spat with David Beckham, in July last year, has proved that status has not cost him his humility. The reward? The first genuinely magical moment of the World Cup. And what a moment, what a dramatic denouement to an afternoon which had clearly drafted in the finest scriptwriters football can manage.
There was the struggle for supremacy, Algeria starting brightly and hitting the bar through the muscular Raffik Djebbour, before the USA fought back, Clint Dempsey scuffing an effort straight at Rais M'Bohli after good work by Donovan.
Then came the intrigue. After the Malian Koman Coulibaly chalked off Maurice Edu's winner against Slovenia for an unidentified offence, Dempsey here found his tap-in ruled out by Franck De Bleeckere for offside.
Cue conspiracy theories and letters of complaint bound for Brussels as well as Bamako.
There was incompetence, too, and on a grand scale, first Jozy Altidore missing an open goal from six yards -- Donovan, yet again, creating the chance -- before Dempsey matched his feat, missing from a similar distance after his initial effort hit the post.
And then the nail-biting climax. The game's latter stages degenerated into an attacking free-for-all, each side looking for the knock-out blow. Altidore headed at M'Bolhi, Karim Ziani screwed a shot wide.
Then Donovan -- in his own words "cheating" his defensive duties -- picked up the ball inside his own half, turned and ran. He reached the edge of the Algerian box, unchallenged, and slid a pass into Altidore's path. M'Bolhi spilled his low cross. Donovan pounced.
From the despair of elimination to the delirium of the ex-Presidential blessing. "I don't like quitters," said Bill Clinton, who had watched the game with Sepp Blatter. "We aren't big on quitting in my family." No kidding.
There was still time for farce -- Antar Yahia sent-off for two bookings in almost as many seconds -- and villainy, too, the Algerian striker Rafik Saifi slapping and hurling a Powerade bottle at an Algerian journalist in the post-match interview area.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
USA -- Howard, Bornstein (Beasley 81), DeMerit, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Dempsey, Edu (Buddle 64), Bradley, Donovan, Gomez (Feilhaber 46), Altidore.
Algeria -- M'Bohli, Bougherra, Halliche, Yahia, Kadir, Yebda, Lacen, Belhadj, Matmour (Saifi 86), Ziani (Guedioura 69), Djebbour (Ghezzal 67).
Ref -- F De Bleeckere (Belgium).