USA 2 - 2 Slovenia
Donovan 48 Birsa 13
Bradley 82 Ljubijankic 42
This what I was expecting to be able to say, after I'd set it up from the Germany game. After all the upsets, finally a game goes the way we expected, as the USA blow away Slovenia. It seemed a foregone conclusion. The whole population of Slovenia wouldn't quite fit into Philadelphia, but in Houston there'd be room to spare. No chance, surely.
Dempsey knew this was a game they had to take seriously. He elbowed Ljubijankic in the head in the first fifteen seconds. It wasn't enough to deter the Slovene from getting his head on a cross a few minutes later, but it flew well over.
The best player early on was Valter Birsa. His cross landed right at the feet of Novakovic, who swung and missed. Strike one.
A series of strikes seemed likely, but then Birsa himself hit a home run. The ball came to him about thirty yards out, American defenders showed a reluctance to intervene not traditionally associated with the US and his shot zipped in, leaving Howard standing. We were all stunned.
Next he played a killer free kick into the box which went all the way through and forced Howard to dive and clutch it. It was given offside, but the game was threatening to turn into the Birsa show.
The Americans tried to come back. Demerit's header from a free kick flashed past the left post, but on their next attack Findley was booked for handball. Considering the ball had just crashed into his face and bounced onto his hand while his eyes were still reflexively shut, this was not so much harsh as absurd.
A Dempsey cross so nearly gave them the result they wanted. It ran right in front of the empty net, and Brecko was left facing his goal, with a ball passing him and Donovan racing in on it. Brilliantly, he steered it on with just enough angle to beat Donovan, but not enough to go in. The best bit of defending in the tournament so far, I thought.
And it was Brecko who passed to Novakovic, who passed to Ljubijankic, who ran in the box and shot coolly under a diving Howard for Slovenia's second. Soon after the halftime whistle went, and Slovenia went in two up.
During the break, US manager Bob Bradley made some changes. He took off Findley and Torres, and brought on Edu and Feilhaber.
Altidore was always a thorn in the Slovenian flesh, and he nearly got in just after the restart. Immediately afterwards Donovan got free after Cesar slipped and missed an interception. He ran in at a tight angle along the byline, looked up, saw there was no-one with him and just whacked it through Handanovic and in. Exactly what the goalkeeper was doing wasn't clear, but it didn't seem to have much to do with his job title.
The game was in a high quality phase. Altidore turned Suler brilliantly on the edge of the box, but before he could get his shot in Suler recovered and nicked it away from under his swinging foot. Dempsey effortlessly trumped this exhibition of mere footballing skills by hurling Kirn to the ground in a move that would have earned him an Olympic gold in the Graeco-Roman wrestling.
As the half wore on, the US pressure on the Slovenian goal mounted, and Slovenians started to get yellow cards. Suler, Kirn and Jokic all found their way into the referee's little black book.
With eight minutes left, they cracked. A cross came in, the ever dangerous Altidore headed it down and it sat up nicely for Bradley, who hammered it home. That's my boy, thought his Dad. Sometimes the manager's son does actually get in on merit.
And after that, they nearly snatched it. They got a free kick on the right, Donovan played a perfect little chip ball in and Edu knocked it in. It was ruled out for a foul, but the replay showed a goalmouth fracas full of potential fouls, all Slovenian.
Radosavljevic nearly snatched it at the death, but Howard saved well and the full time whistle blew. A great game, and time to see if England could match them.