• Saturday, 19 June 2010

    Blundering ref keeps Slovenia alive

    After a less-than-convincing win over Algeria, could Slovenia carry it on against the USA? On paper, it looked like a far tougher assignment, but a stunning strike from Valter Birsa and a tidy finish from Zlatan Ljubilankic saw them into a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead. USA coach Bob Bradley made a couple of changes during the break and they worked. Landon Donovan scored from a stupidly tight angle - the otherwise exemplary Samir Handanovic at fault on his near post - a couple of minutes after the restart and then it was backs to the wall for Slovenia, hoping to hold off the resurgent Americans.

    They couldn't hold out, the boss's son Michael lashed home from the edge of the box to square it up with five minutes to go, but that was just the start of it. Enter Koman Coulibaly. Donovan curled a free-kick into the box which one of those half-time subs, Maurice Edu, stuck past Handanovic for the apparent winner, but Coulibaly had blown for a foul. Repeated viewings showed none. If anything, it was the Slovenians guilty of pushing, grabbing and wrestling. The irate Americans pressed the ref for a reason why, but they got little change from the Malian who we saw referee in the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the year where he showed little sign of the erratic display he gave here. It wasn't just that game-turning decision as he'd been - to put it kindly - idiosyncratic throughout.

    Had he called it right, the group would be wide open. Instead, Slovenia lead the way with a game against England remaining. They need to get something out of it to progress and keep the Euroballs pound alive.

    Elsewhere, we had a real collectors item with Germany's first penalty miss in a World Cup finals since 1982. Lukas Podolski had the chance to level from the spot after Miroslav Klose had been sent off and Milan Jovanovic had put Serbia ahead, but a weak effort was relatively simple for Vladimir Stojkovic to push away. The Dutch are two-for-two without impressing in either game. Received wisdom says they're poor at the back, but two clean sheets puts that in question although tougher tests will follow. France are in utter disaaray after losing to Mexico in a display that does the good name of insipid a disservice. Nicolas Anelka is the latest to face being dropped after a fall-out with coach Raymond Domenech. Anelka screamed at him during half-time in that game "screw you, dirty son of a whore" after being berated for drifting out of position. There's only Patrice Evra who looks like he cares.

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