Slovenia’s Valter Birsa became the first player in the 2010 finals to make the Jabulani do his bidding. His 25-yard left-footer effort made Tim Howard look foolish and the USA chasing a game they started as favourites. They came back strongly and could have even won, had Maurice Edu’s goal, off a Landon Donovan free-kick, not been disallowed.
Having made the most of a goalkeeping clanger last week, Howard’s howler was another example of how things usually even out in sport. And why, at the pre-match media conference here on Thursday, USA coach Bob Bradley refused to go beyond accepting that they have been fortunate in having a string of good goalkeepers.
When Carlos Bocanegra conceded a free-kick, Birsa showed his control over the ball again, driving a low right-footer that Milivoje Novakovic nearly connected.
In the midst of sustained domination by the USA, Howard was again left stranded when a swift interchange of passes had Zlatan Ljubijankic break on the left and score with a neat placement. Howard though showed why he earns his living in the Premier League, tipping over a free-kick each from his left and right. Nearing full-time, he fisted out another long-range effort, this time from Aleksander Radosavljevic.
In the Slovenia goal, Samir Handanovic had a busier afternoon at Ellis Park. Clint Dempsey’s early free-kick led to a double-handed save before he punched out Francisco Torres’s swinging left-foot drive --- after Bostjan Cesar was booked for stopping Jozy Altidore --- with Donovan following up.
Donovan, adjudged Man-of-the-Match, banged in the reducer early in the second half making him the third player from the USA with at least three goals in the finals.
It ensured that this first-ever contest between the teams wasn’t short on enterprise after the breather too. Egged on by chants of ‘USA, USA’, Bradley found the equaliser, running in to meet Altidore heading down a super long ball from Donovan and connecting sweetly to hit the roof of the Slovenia net for the second time this evening.
As the USA bench swamped on their central midfielder, their coach was busy passing instructions. Father and son hugged by the touchline only after the final whistle, long after Howard had looked up in relief and the USA lived to fight another day. This was the first time in World Cup history that a son scored for the team coached by his father.