Nice to finally meet you again World Cup win. You’ve been so elusive and we haven’t seen each other in so long, way too long, eight years to be exact.
Landon Donovan may never score as sweet a goal as he did in this match and many of the American fans, including myself, may never witness a sweeter goal than we did in the 91st minute of this crucial Group C fixture.
Heading to Loftus Versfeld, a venue where I vividly remember the US getting trounced 3-1 and 3-0 by Italy and Brazil respectively during the Confederations Cup, gave me an eerie feeling that today may not be our day. Never mind that only a week ago I was in Loftus and had seen my beloved Bafana Bafana get thrashed by Uruguay 3-0.
Upon waking up that day in Pretoria, I felt as if I was actually the one playing as I had the pre-match jitters as I knew this would be a crucial day in the history of US soccer.
Those jitters certainly didn’t ease upon walking into the stadium and seeing that Jonathan Bornstein was starting at left back.
As will be the pre-match protocol until we are dumped from the tournament, the red, white and blue mohawk was out in full swing. For fans that bought tickets through the US Federation, it seemed as though our seating plan was exactly the same for this match as for the USA-Slovenia match as I was sitting next to the same comrades that had sweated those frantic 90 minutes out with me.
Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws were in great voice prior to the match as were our Algerian counterparts and the scene was set for what we all knew would be a crunch encounter.
After Algeria rocked Tim Howard’s bar in the first 5five minutes, they lacked any real desire to move forward, which was surprising since they needed a victory just as much as us. Being at the other end of the pitch, I had no way of knowing whether Clint Dempsey’s goal that was ruled out for offside was the proper call, but just chalked it up as a missed opportunity.
A few moments later the dreaded double text came into my phone – not only should Dempsey’s goal have stood, but Jermaine Defoe had put England up against Slovenia, meaning that it was win or bust for us.
With this knowledge in our pocket, the American fans were on pins and needles for the second half knowing we needed a victory, but seeing our team continuously miss good chances to break the deadlock.
This included Jozy Altidore blasting over the bar, Dempsey hitting the post and missing the empty net on the follow-up and a strong Edson Buddle header valiantly saved by the Algerian keeper.
The clock seemed to be sprinting to 90 minutes as I frantically searched for a text message that read “Slovenia scored, it’s 1-1!” Thankfully, that text message never came.
It took 90 back-breaking minutes, but it was well worth the wait when the goal finally arrived. In the 91st minute, Landon Donovan broke the stalemate, cleaning up a Dempsey rebound and then wheeling around to celebrate the most dramatic winner he’d ever scored.
It was pure ecstasy, utter jubilation and absolute, unbridled joy in the stands at Loftus. Words cannot do the feeling justice.
The next hour is a haze, all I know is the final whistle blew somewhere in there, though I will admit I had no idea the Algerian captain had picked up a red card until the next morning.
For once the goal went in, the only thing on all of our minds were tears of joy, hugging every person around you as tightly as if they were a long lost friend and feeling as alive as one can ever possibly feel.
The celebrations continued long after the players had saluted us and left the field. The American section of Loftus was awash with red, white and blue for a solid 45 minutes after the final whistle just singing and dancing in an empty stadium.
After that, the celebrations spilled over to right outside the stadium, where most of the media was waiting to capture us. For what seemed like forever, we celebrated the victory outside the stadium with every song and dance that we could think of.
After that, the celebrations took to the street in Pretoria all the way to Hatfield Square where we watched to see who our opponent for the Round of 16 matchup would be.
For every game there must be a winner and a loser and for as exuberant as the American fans were, the Algerians were just as despondent. Yet, they handled themselves with nothing but pure class and tact outside the stadium and throughout the night. They passed on their best wishes for the US moving forward and congratulated us on advancing.
I even got a huge hug from an Algerian fan for telling him that his team were much tougher than rivals Egypt were last June, which is nothing but the truth.
There was one moment outside the stadium that summed up what this World Cup is about. An Algerian fan came up to an American fan and swapped jerseys with him, just as the players do at the end of the match. Because at the end of the day, we are still one human race.
For no one more than Landon Donovan, this was redemption for a disappointing 2006 World Cup. You could see it on his face as he scored, four years of agony wiped away with the single kick of a ball.
Dear World Cup victory, please tell me we’ll be seeing each other again tomorrow in Rustenburg!