US team fit to be tied
Quarterfinal berth is still within reach
TIANJIN, China - The United States was within seconds of a major win and a quarterfinal berth in men's Olympic soccer. Now it's a tie away.
The Americans allowed a goal on a free kick by Gerald Sibon in the third minute of stoppage time, forcing them to settle for a 2-2 tie with the Netherlands last night and swallow a lot of frustration.
"We were very close to being in the quarterfinals, and now we are very far," US coach Peter Nowak said. "Before the game, nobody gave us a chance. And I think we played pretty good. You can look at this as half empty or half full."
The result left the United States with four points, tied atop Group B with Nigeria and two ahead of the Netherlands. Japan has zero. Only two teams advance. Nigeria beat Japan, 2-1, here yesterday.
The US team faces off against the Nigerians Wednesday in the final group game for both in Beijing. The Dutch will need a victory against Japan while the United States, which has scored more goals than Nigeria, will require only a tie to advance.
But the US team will play Nigeria without Freddy Adu and midfielder Michael Bradley, who picked up their second yellow cards and will serve one-game suspensions.
"I'm still really bummed," US midfielder Robbie Rogers said. "That's the best I've seen us play."
The Americans fell behind in the 16th minute on a goal by Ryan Babel, but made a tactical change soon afterward, playing with more urgency on offense, and began to control the match.
Defender Michael Parkhurst of the Revolution played the entire game for the United States and started a five-pass sequence that nearly led to a tying goal in the 40th minute. But goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer denied Stuart Holden's one-timer and Rogers's rebound effort.
Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore scored eight minutes apart to give the United States a 2-1 lead by the 72d minute.
Kljestan tied the game in the 64th minute, running onto a through ball from Adu, cutting inside, and turning defender Kew Jaliens before blasting a right-footed shot past Vermeer.
"When I scored that goal, we went and picked it up," Kljestan said. "Our confidence just continued to grow."
Eight minutes later with the United States pressing again, the ball squirted wide left to defender Michael Orozco, who drove it back across the penalty area and Altidore knocked it in with his right knee.
But as the game wore on and the Dutch saw their Olympic chances dwindling, caution was no longer an option.
Sibon entered in the 75th minute with fellow forward Roy Makaay, who injured his foot in the Netherlands' 0-0 draw with Nigeria last week and initially was reported to be unavailable.
The United States fought off all chances until the Dutch earned a free kick 25 yards from goal, and Jonathan de Guzman and Urby Emanuelson were unsure who should take it.
"When I came in, they said they weren't sure, and so I said, 'I'll take it,' " Sibon said. "You just blast it on goal and see where it lands."
Sibon's low drive eluded goalkeeper Brad Guzan, sending the Dutch to their game against winless Japan with renewed hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.
"If you look at the replay, it goes right under the wall," Guzan said. "Unfortunately, we were the better team for 70 minutes. We let two points get away from us."
Elsewhere, three teams clinched quarterfinal berths. In Shenyang, Ronaldinho scored a pair of second-half goals to lead Brazil into the next round with a 5-0 rout of New Zealand. In Qinhuangdao, New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi scored as Italy secured its spot with a 3-0 victory over South Korea. In Shanghai, a 1-0 victory over Australia was enough for Argentina to advance.