By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010; D08
JOHANNESBURG -- With the United States treacherously close to getting bounced from the World Cup, American soccer fans at Ellis Park wept with joy when Michael Bradley knotted the score in the 82nd minute of Friday's slugfest with Slovenia.
And when Maurice Edu put the Americans ahead three minutes later with a flick of his left foot on a free kick from Landon Donovan, the stands erupted in euphoria, the heavily partisan crowd thrilled to have witnessed the greatest comeback in U.S. World Cup history.
But one man's view of the roughhousing that preceded Edu's shot changed all that. Referee Koman Coulibaly signaled a foul against the United States -- one he declined to pin on any particular player, but a foul, nonetheless -- that negated Edu's goal and restored the 2-2 deadlock that remained until time expired.
ESPN broadcasters railed against the call, with former U.S. national team member Alexi Lalas declaring it a "disgrace" and "ridiculous."
So did esteemed English Premier League Coach David Moyes, who told the BBC that not only was there no foul on the part of the U.S. players, from his vantage point, but there were likely two overlooked penalties committed by Slovenian defenders. "Shocking decision," Moyes said.
Donovan, the U.S. squad's most experienced player, told ESPN as he strode off the field, "I don't know how they stole that last goal from us." But he reined in the rhetoric during his post-match interview, saying simply: "I don't know what to think of the call because I didn't see any foul. I don't know how there wasn't a goal.
U.S. Coach Bob Bradley chose his words with a neurosurgeon's care.
"When you're involved in the game long enough, there are moments where you are frustrated and you feel that situations have not been handled 100 percent correctly or fairly," Bradley said. "That's the way the game works sometimes. So you move on."
Meantime, enraged U.S. fans defaced Coulibaly's Wikipedia page, while sports journalists worldwide probed his credentials for evidence of incompetence.
And Eric Wynalda, one of the most prolific goal-scorers in U.S. history, went as far as calling for an investigation into Coulibaly, 39, who is making his World Cup debut after officiating the African Cup of Nations five times.
To be sure, Coulibaly found himself in the midst of multiple wrestling matches as he attempted to keep order over the final tense minutes. Americans Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley each were wrapped up and writhing with Slovenian defenders as Donovan prepared to send the ball into the fray from the side.
But seconds before Edu broke free to give the ball a well-placed whack, Coulibaly blew a whistle and extended his arm, indicating a foul.
Michael Bradley was enraged and immediately restrained by Donovan.
According to Donovan, several players asked Coulibaly to explain the call, which was reported by FIFA's official play-by-play as a foul on Edu.
"He just ignored us, or he didn't understand," Donavan said, noting that Coulibaly's first language is French.
Said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard: "The referees' calls, they never get reversed. You just live and die by 'em a little bit. It is what it is, unfortunately."