United States rallies to tie Slovenia

The United States rallied from two goals down at halftime to salvage a 2-2 draw with Slovenia on Friday in Group C.

Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan scored in the second half as the United States denied the Slovenian’s a win that would have made them the first team to advance to the knockout round.

“This team still understands how to fight for 90 minutes,” United States coach Bob Bradley said. “This is something we’ve seen time and time again.”

Valter Birsa scored in the 13th minute and Zlatan Ljubijankic doubled the score for Slovenia in the 42nd.

The result at a cold and blustery Ellis Park left Group C wide open, with the last round of group stage matches to decide which teams move on.

Bradley scored the equalizer in the 82nd minute from Jozy Altidore’s header. Altidore nudged it forward and Bradley, running at full speed, caught up to it just in front of the goal and tapped it up and over Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic’s head for the equalizer.

United States substitute Maurice Edu volleyed Donovan’s free kick into the net in the 86th but the goal was disallowed as the referee called a foul on Edu.

“I still don’t know why the goal was disallowed,” Bradley said. “Nobody knows at this moment.”

Donovan gave the Americans hope at the start of the second half. Picking up a long pass from Steve Cherundolo, he broke in from the right flank and blasted a right-footer into the top of the net from a tight angle. It was Donovan’s 43rd goal for the United States.

“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.”

Birsa scored from 25 yards, stunning United States goalkeeper Tim Howard, who stood frozen on the goal line and watched the shot drift into his upper left corner.

The Slovenian winger was left unchallenged by a passive American defense and had ample time to adjust his aim before curling the shot perfectly with his left foot.

Ljubijankic doubled the score on a counterattack, set up by attacking partner Milivoje Novakovic. Howard rushed out to stop him but Ljubijankic kept his cool and slotted the ball inside the far post.

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World Cup 2010: Somali football fans executed for watching matches

A Somali football fan adjusts the Television set for the group D game between Ghana and Serbia Photo: EPA

By Aislinn Laing, Southern Africa correspondent

The deaths happened on Saturday near the capital Mogadishu when members of the Hizbul Islam group stormed a house where people were watching Nigeria play Argentina.

A further 10 people were arrested by the group, which has imposed a strict version of Islam in the areas they control in southern and central Somalia.

The following night, another 30 people including a 15-year-old boy were arrested as the watched the Germany-Australia game in two private homes in the town of Afgoye.

A spokesman for the group, Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Aros, said the rest of Somalia should respect their ban on the World Cup – the first to be hosted in Africa – and focus instead on “pursuing holy jihad”.

“We are warning all the youth of Somalia not to dare watch these World Cup matches. It is a waste of money and time and they will not benefit anything or get any experience by watching mad men jumping up and down,” he said.

The ban, which has seen radio stations around the city taken off air for playing music, has resulted in people flocking to public cinemas in the few Government-controlled areas of the country.

Ahmed Santos used to live in an area of Somalia run by militants, but now is in a government-controlled area.

“I can now freely watch the matches,” he said. “I am so sorry that some of my friends who are now living where I was once don’t have that chance to watch the World Cup. I really feel sorry for them.”

Others are risking the wrath of the militants, such is their love of the beautiful game.

One man, who lives in the militant-controlled livestock market area of the city said he watched Algeria-Slovenia at home with his family.

“I have one eye on the TV and the other on the door, and the sound turned down,” he said.

U.S. ties England in World Cup opener/Is Obama Calling England to Apologize?

The United States held England to a 1-1 draw in their World Cup opener Saturday, with a stunning blunder by England goalkeeper Robert Green costing his team victory.

An apparently harmless 25-yard left-foot shot from Clint Dempsey in the 40th minute went straight at Green but the ball bounced off his right glove and trickled over the line for an equalizer.

England captain Steven Gerrard had given England the lead in the fourth, charging into the area and shooting with the outside of his foot past Tim Howard for his 17th international goal.

England, pursuing its first World Cup title since 1966, created more chances but the Americans held firm under pressure with a string of saves from Howard.

Green’s error brought looks of dismay from English fans who were a majority in the sellout crowd of more than 38,000 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

“Unfortunately we’ve let a poor goal in and we couldn’t go on and get the winner,” Gerrard said. “The goal shocked us a bit… It took us a while to get over it.”

At the final whistle, American fans applauded and waved their flags as their team came over to greet them while the English supporters stood mostly in silence after their team filed off the field with heads bowed.

“Our first game is still about getting something, but when you go behind early, I thought the response was good,” United States coach Bob Bradley said. “I think after the goal, we started to put some plays together and built up confidence.”

Green’s slip recalled a similar mistake by former goalkeeper Scott Carson against Croatia which denied England a place at the 2008 European Championship.

Dempsey became only the second American to score in two World Cups. He also scored in the 2006 tournament.

“It was a difficult game,” Gerrard said. “I think the important thing in the first game is not to lose.”

Gerrard’s early strike helped settle the England team while the Americans struggled to find any rhythm.

The United States had little to show for its efforts before its goal. The best chances came from headers as playmaker Landon Donovan twice set up Jozy Altidore to head wide.
Wayne Rooney, regarded as England’s most threatening player, saw little of the ball and had little impact on the match.

Emile Heskey slammed into Howard in the 29th, hitting the goalkeeper in the chest with the toe of his boot as both went to meet a low cross from Aaron Lennon.

Heskey, making his first start since October, broke clear in the 52nd but shot straight at Howard, who came sprinting to the edge of the penalty area.

Howard was called into action again soon after as he tipped an effort from Frank Lampard over the bar, and at the other end Green deflected a shot from Altidore onto the crossbar in the 65th.

Rooney almost connected with a cross from Gerrard at the back post, and then set up substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips for a clear shot from the left which Howard stopped.

England coach Fabio Capello cranked up the pressure late in the match, bringing on Peter Crouch with 10 minutes remaining to supply Rooney with more possession, but there was no way through the American defense

World Cup 2010: United States has historic opportunity vs. England

By Steven Goff

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Since the World Cup draw was staged in December and the United States was placed alongside England, forging one of the tournament’s tastiest matchups, every story line has been exhausted.

It’s the inventors of modern soccer facing the historically backwater upstart. It’s the teams’ first World Cup meeting since the Americans shocked England 60 years ago in Brazil. It’s a collection of U.S. players facing the country that employs many of them in its celebrated professional league, which has a strong following in America.

Six months in the making, the U.S. national team has come to this remote outpost at the base of the Magaliesberg mountains in northern South Africa to play arguably the most anticipated match in its history.

“It’s an unprecedented moment,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. “It’s one of those opportunities you don’t get very often. It’s a dream game.”

There have been more important U.S. games in recent years — against Brazil in the round of 16 in 1994 and Germany in the 2002 quarterfinal, and perhaps the Confederations Cup encounters with Spain and Brazil last year.

But the long wait between the draw in Cape Town and Saturday’s kickoff at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, combined with the deep cultural and political ties between the nations, has stoked the emotions and contributed to heightened awareness in the otherwise soccer-indifferent United States.

“For the last six months, all we have seen is U.S.-England,” midfielder Landon Donovan said. “So if you were a casual sports fan at home, you might think that this was the World Cup final: U.S. versus England.”

Far from it. But beating England would reverberate around the sporting world and help win over casual U.S. observers watching a rare network telecast of soccer.

U.S. players have proved their worth in the famed English Premier League for years, but “if we now can do it on the national team level against them on a big stage, it only takes the ball a little bit further,” Coach Bob Bradley said.

Added Donovan, the U.S. team’s career scoring leader: “Every time we have an opportunity to play, we have an opportunity to grow the sport, and we clearly understand that every four years, that is magnified and multiplied by a lot.”

Compared with past World Cup appearances, the United States does not face a particularly daunting schedule and is widely regarded as the second-best team in its group. It will play Slovenia on Friday and Algeria five days later.

Advancement would help purge memories of their winless performance at the 2006 tournament in Germany. “Everyone thinks we’re an underdog and England has all the pressure,” midfielder Clint Dempsey said. “We have pressure too. We’ve got to advance out of the group.”

The Americans enter the England match bursting with confidence but bracing for one of the world’s finest strikers, Wayne Rooney, and top-class midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

Bradley said his team’s “ability to keep track of [Rooney] and make it hard for him is a very, very important part of what we need to do in order to win.”

Uncertainty about the U.S. backline has added to the challenge. Will Oguchi Onyewu, the 6-foot-4 center back who started in the previous World Cup, receive the nod after not playing all 90 minutes in any of the three tuneups? If not, will Bradley shift assignments in order to fortify the middle?

Other mysteries linger. Will Maurice Edu or Ricardo Clark join Michael Bradley in central midfield, where the Americans will need to disrupt English possession?

Bradley did answer one big question: Forward Jozy Altidore, who suffered a mild ankle sprain last Wednesday, will start — a decision that seems likely to thrust speedster Robbie Findley alongside Altidore.

For the players, after a week of training camp at Princeton, two home friendlies and almost two weeks in South Africa, the England match couldn’t come quickly enough.

“We get tired of kicking each other, we get tired of training,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We are together forever. We are just ready to get it on and see what we are made of. All the talk is over, or soon will be over. We are prepared. We know exactly what type of game we are going to be in — we are under no illusions. It couldn’t be a better challenge than to be the first game for us.”

U.S. note: Twice on Friday, the U.S. team bus had its trip interrupted because an elephant was in the road. For two days, the delegation has stayed at a lodge on the edge of Pilanesberg National Park, 23 miles from Rustenburg.

The World Cup and Terrorism

By TOBY STERLING (AP)

AMSTERDAM — Dutch security officials said Wednesday they are taking seriously the threat to soccer fans after a terrorism suspect arrested in Iraq claimed he considered attacking Dutch or Danish fans at the World Cup in South Africa.

But the Dutch anti-terrorism office and Danish authorities said they aren’t yet planning any new security measures in response.

Judith Sluiter of the Netherlands’ anti-terrorism coordination office says the comments made by Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani were in line with her agency’s perception of potential threats.

“Dutch interests abroad are more at risk than they are inside this country at the moment,” Sluiter said. “Here, they’re limited, but abroad, they’re substantial.”

Al-Qahtani said he considered attacking the Dutch and Danish teams or fans to avenge perceived insults to Islam.

“We discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland,” al-Qahtani told The Associated Press. “If we were not able to reach the teams, then we’d target the fans.”

Al-Qahtani, a Saudi citizen, was arrested in Iraq on May 3 after a note he had written detailing similar plans was found at a house where two leading al-Qaida suspects were killed in April.

Dutch citizens are considered potential targets in part due to an anti-Islam film made by right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Similarly, Danes have been considered at risk due to the publication of cartoons featuring Islam’s prophet Mohammed.

Vish Naidoo, a spokesman for South African police, said the report from Baghdad would not affect World Cup security planning because terrorism had always been part of the calculations.

Interpol, the international police coordination agency, is sending 200 experts to assist at the tournament, while each of the 31 visiting teams will be sending up to eight officers to work with South African counterparts.

South Africa has trained 44,000 extra police for the event.

Sluiter said her agency was in touch with intelligence agencies about potential threats and “keeping its finger on the pulse.”

The Netherlands national team departs for a pre-tournament training camp in Switzerland on Wednesday.

Denmark captain Jon Dahl Tomasson declined to comment Wednesday on the terrorism threat.

“I think we should focus on one thing, and that is we are heading out to play great football,” the Feyenoord striker said.

Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report.