How the U.S. advances
• Defeats Algeria
• Ties Algeria, and England loses or ties Slovenia. In the case of an England tie, the United States advances if it maintains its total-goal advantage over England (currently 3-1). If England makes up that deficit and equals the U.S. in total goals, then it goes to the final tiebreaker: The teams draw lots to see who advances.
JOHANNESBURG — Maurice Edu kicked the ball into the net. American players jumped around wildly, thinking they had capped a historic comeback, turning a two-goal, first-half deficit into a 3-2 win over Slovenia.
"Then I heard the whistle," Edu said.
Referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali had called it off. Over and over, American players asked, "Why?" In English. Then in French.
"He just ignored us," Landon Donovan said. "Or he didn't understand."
Perhaps Coulibaly, working his first World Cup game, will never explain himself. By the rules, he doesn't have to speak to the media on game days, and his next availability isn't until Monday.
What's known is this: Donovan and Michael Bradley scored second-half goals that did count, and U.S. hopes to reach the second round remained alive with a 2-2 tie Friday.
Now it comes down to Wednesday's match against Algeria.
"My guess is there's not many teams in this tournament that could have done what we did and arguably won the game. And that is what the American spirit is about," Donovan said. "And I'm sure people back home are proud of that."
Slovenia (1-0-1) leads Group C with four points and would have qualified for the second round with a win. The United States and England (both 0-0-2) are tied for second with two points each after England's 0-0 draw with Algeria (0-1-1).
The top two teams in the group advance, so the United States would make the second round with a win against Algeria. The Americans could advance if they tie the Algerians while England draws Slovenia, provided the United States maintains its advantage in goals scored over the English, currently 3-1.
"We can still get through," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Being down 2-0 in a game, I've played long enough to feel very lucky and fortunate to come out of it still in the World Cup."
This would have meant so much more than one World Cup match.
"I'm a little gutted, to be honest," Donovan said. "I don't know how they stole that last goal from us."
Donovan took a free kick from the side of the penalty area in the 85th minute, as players jostled in front. Aleksandar Radosavljevic held Bradley, and Edu spun away from Bojan Jokic and, one step into the 6-yard box, stuck out his left foot and put the ball in.
It was unclear to the United States what Coulibaly called. At the time of the whistle, U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra did have an arm around Nejc Pecnik.
"Whistles were blown very early. No explanation," Bocanegra said.
"There's no point talking about it," said Bradley, the coach's son.
But there's no forgetting it.
"What I've heard is that there were three fouls in the box, and all of which were against Slovenia players," coach Bob Bradley said.
"In the midst of the game, with everything that's going on, it's rare that when a tough call is made that a referee at that moment will give you an answer," he said. "Sometimes after the fact you might get an answer, but that's not always the case, either. When you're involved in the game long enough, there are moments where you are frustrated because you feel that situations have not been handled 100 percent correctly or fairly. But that's the way the game works sometimes, so you move on."
Slovenia was outshot 14-7 but had two shots on goal in the first half and scored on both.
The Green Dragons went ahead when Valter Birsa got behind Bradley and the defense, found 5 yards of space and from about 28 yards caught Howard flat-footed. The goalkeeper was screened by defender Oguchi Onyewu. The ball sailed past Howard and went in. "I just lost sight of it," Howard said.
Later on a counterattack, Zlatan Ljubijankic ran up the middle, took a pass and sent an 8-yard right-footed shot under Howard.
Donovan started the U.S. comeback in the 48th minute, putting the ball over goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and into the roof of the net in the 6-yard box.
It was the third World Cup goal for Donovan and his record 43rd for the national team.
"I decided to take a touch and aim high — and aim at his head," Donovan said. "And I don't think he wanted to get hit from there."
Michael Bradley tied the score in the 82nd, when Jozy Altidore's header off Donovan's free kick fell in the middle of the penalty area. Running at full speed, Bradley caught up to it about 8 yards from the goal and with his right foot tapped it over Handanovic's head.
It was almost the first come-from-behind win for the Americans in World Cup play. The United States is 6-16-5 in the World Cup, never falling behind in its wins. That would have changed, if not for what the team believes was a phantom foul.
During the past week, U.S. players said this wasn't so much a "must-win game" as a "can't-lose" match.
That changes against Algeria.
"Now we have to win," Donovan said. "Period. End of story."