PRETORIA, South Africa - Over and over, everything seemed to go against them.
A referee's controversial call took away a win last week, and a linesman disallowed another goal Wednesday. Now there were only 31/2 minutes left, just that much remaining until all the doubts about American soccer would rise again.
But then Landon Donovan scored on a lightning-fast counterattack 45 seconds into the 4-minute injury time. With the most amazing late-game moment in American soccer history, the United States beat Algeria, 1-0, and reached the second round.
"This team embodies the American spirit," Donovan said. "We had a goal disallowed the other night. We had another good goal disallowed tonight. But we just keep going, and I think that's what people admire so much about Americans. And I'm damn proud."
"That's probably going to capture more people's attention than if we won the game 3-0 and it was easy," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "That emotion, that passion, is what American sports fans thrive on."
The U.S. earned its first World Cup win in eight years and finished atop its first-round group for the first time since the original World Cup in 1930. With a quick turnaround, the Americans play Ghana Saturday night in Rustenburg for a spot in the quarterfinals. Four years ago, Ghana won the final match of the opening round against the Americans to eliminate them.
Clint Dempsey appeared to score in the 21st minute off a rebound. He was called offside, although replays indicated the goal should have counted. "You shake it out of your head and keep on fighting," Dempsey said.
Knowing England led Slovenia at the half, the U.S. put in offensive substitutes, first Benny Feilhaber at the start of the second half, then Edson Buddle in the 64th minute and finally DaMarcus Beasley in the 81st.
"The second half wasn't a soccer game - it was more like a track meet,'' Howard said. "Back and forth, back and forth, both teams were so desperate."
Howard started the counter-attack that led to the goal when he knocked down a shot and rolled the ball to Donovan on the right flank. He moved upfield and passed ahead to Jozy Altidore just inside the 18-yard box.
Altidore's right-footed cross was flicked by Dempsey as he crashed into goalkeeper Rais Bolhi. As Dempsey tumbled over Bolhi, the ball rolled back out. In ran Donovan, whose right-footed shot from 7 yards slammed the ball into the lower left corner.
After his national-record 44th international goal, Donovan ran to the corner flag, sliding headfirst in a belly flop, and his teammates ran to mob him. When the game ended, he kicked the ball into the stands.
"Someone got a nice souvenir," he said.