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WORLD CUP

Landon's late show

Donovan's goal in extra time sends U.S. to second round.

June 24, 2010|Kevin Baxter

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — By the time it was over Clint Dempsey and Jay DeMerit were bleeding from wounds that needed to be stitched closed. Yet they wouldn't quit.

"Hell no," Dempsey snapped. "Keep fighting. Never give up."

Forward Jozy Altidore was aching from a prolonged pummeling and Landon Donovan's uniform was covered in blood, sweat and, later, tears. But they didn't stop pushing forward.

"Nobody chucks it in," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "Everybody continues to go."

So they did, even as Wednesday afternoon turned to evening. And that resolve was finally rewarded when Donovan scored arguably the most dramatic goal in U.S. soccer history a minute into stoppage time to beat Algeria, 1-0, and send the Americans on to the second round of World Cup play for only the third time since 1930.

"Hands down the biggest moment in my career," said Donovan, who broke down during an emotional postgame news conference. "I'm shocked. I'm so proud of our guys.

"Unbelievable."

For 90 minutes, the U.S. and Algeria, each needing a win to avoid elimination, slugged it out in as entertaining a game as this World Cup has produced. But when regulation time ended, they were still scoreless.

The U.S. had one goal waved off by a questionable offside call, lost another when a Dempsey drive hit the goal post and twice saw shots go wide of an open net

And then a minute into extra time the Americans finally broke though.

It started with a save by goalkeeper Tim Howard, who initiated a counterattack by whipping the ball out to Donovan on the right wing. Donovan fed Altidore deep in the Algerian end, and his crossing pass hit Dempsey's foot at about the same time Algerian keeper Rais M'Bolhi did.

That opened the way for the trailing Donovan, who swooped in to knock the loose ball into the net and the U.S. into the next round, where the Group C champions will face Ghana on Saturday.

"The moment kind of slowed down for me," said Donovan, whose goal was his 44th in international competition, a U.S. record. "It was as much a reaction as anything."

And so was what came next -- a raucous celebration at the touch line that continued into the changing room, where the team was congratulated by former President Bill Clinton.

"A lot of kisses. A little uncomfortable," Donovan said, referring to his teammates, not Clinton. "It's something I'll have imbedded in my mind forever."

After the kisses he cried, emotions he blamed on a difficult four years that included the U.S. team's disappointing performance in the 2006 World Cup and his separation, last July, from his wife, actress Bianca Kajlich.

"Those experiences can harden you and can help you grow if you learn from them and if you look at them the right way," he said. "And I've done a lot of work to get something out of those experiences.

"I think it kind of all came together tonight."

For the team as well. Although the Americans have made a habit of dramatic comebacks -- "heart attack-esque," Bocanegra called it -- U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said none could top Wednesday.

"It's the biggest win we've ever had, for so many reasons," Gulati said. "One is obviously the fashion in which it happened. Second is the overcoming of adversity. And three, most of the country was tuned into the game.

"So of course it makes it the biggest game. It is so trite to say, but the American spirit came through."

That's a theme Bocanegra picked up on.

"It's just a group of guys that fight for each other," he said. "People talk about technique and tactics and all this stuff. But our team spirit is second to none. And it's something that gets us through a lot."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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