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Fall after the call

Controversial penalty against U.S. stymied momentum

Posted: Thursday June 22, 2006 4:25PM; Updated: Thursday June 22, 2006 8:39PM
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The foul call against Oguchi Onyewu just before half resulted in a penalty kick, which ultimately doomed the U.S.
The foul call against Oguchi Onyewu just before half resulted in a penalty kick, which ultimately doomed the U.S.
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NUREMBERG, Germany -- Oguchi Onyewu didn't want to talk about it, refusing to comment as he walked through the mixed zone.

But his U.S. teammates and coaches had plenty to say about the controversial penalty call on Onyewu that gave Ghana the difference-making spot kick in its 2-1 win over the U.S. on Thursday, which knocked the Yanks out of the World Cup.

"In 100 years that's not a penalty," said Landon Donovan.

"Easily the softest penalty kick of the tournament," Claudio Reyna added.

"To have to chase the game on that call was kind of remarkable in a game at this level," said U.S. manager Bruce Arena.

Needing a win to advance to the second round, the Americans had just tied the score 1-1 on Clint Dempsey's 43rd-minute goal when defender Carlos Bocanegra played a ball high into his own box. Onyewu went up for the ball with Ghana's Razak Pimpong and headed it out of danger, only to bump Pimpong to the ground. But German referee Markus Merk blew his whistle. Penalty. Stephen Appiah converted the spot kick for Ghana, giving the Black Stars a lead they would never relinquish -- and, in turn, providing Africa's only spot in the Round of 16.

Instead of going into halftime tied 1-1 and needing only one more goal to complete a stirring rebirth into the World Cup's second round, the U.S. suddenly found itself in two-goal desperation mode. And Ghana didn't make things any easier by shifting into a defensive-minded counter-attacking mode after the goal.

U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo said he had an unobstructed view of the incident and saw nothing that would deserve a penalty. "There was a little bit of body contact," Cherundolo said, "but it's not synchronized swimming. It's soccer. It's a rough sport, and there's going to be body contact. But it's not a penalty."

For his part, Bocanegra shouldered some of the blame for sending the ball into his own box. "Maybe I should have played it out of bounds for a throw in," he said. "You get punished for those things."

True, but the U.S. hardly covered itself in glory on the attacking end of the field, either. The Yanks managed only three shots on goal against Ghana (and four in the entire tournament), and their offensive star, Landon Donovan, never displayed any of the dangerous attributes that have made him the U.S.'s No. 3 all-time goal-scorer at age 24.

Three plays involving Donovan told the story on Thursday:

Play One: In the 35th minute, with the U.S. down 1-0, Brian McBride headed one of the Americans' countless longballs onto Donovan's foot as he raced toward the goal. Donovan mistimed his steps, however, and skied his shot harmlessly over the crossbar.

Play Two: After Bobby Convey earned a free kick for the U.S. just outside the box in the 81st minute, Donovan stood over the ball with the chance to equalize the 2-1 game. But instead of bending his free kick directly into the goal -- when was the last time a U.S. player did that? -- or serving a ball onto the head of a teammate in the box, Donovan hit a moonball over everything and out of bounds.

Play Three: As things got desperate in the 90th minute, Donovan made a nice run to get free on the right side of the Ghanaian box, but instead of shooting or continuing his run he laid the ball off to ... defensive midfielder Ben Olsen, who could do nothing with it.