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US comes back for 2-2 draw with Slovenia

Team America drives back in 2nd half but is stalled by referee's call.

And expectations before Friday’s match were high on both sides.

Following its first-ever World Cup victory over Algeria on Sunday, Slovenia was brimming with confidence. Slovenia’s midfielder Andrej Komac said it in unusually unequivocal terms when he told reporters this week ahead of the U.S. game: “We are going to win this match.”

Ziga Kajfez, a 39-year-old travel agent from Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, said he and 600 other Slovenian supporters in town for the match expected no less than three points from their clash with the only remaining world superpower.

“If we beat Russia, why can’t we beat the United States,” he said.

Interest has been high back home, and “almost everybody” in Slovenia was expected to be in front of a TV screen come kickoff time, Kajfez said.

Independent only since 1991 when it broke off from war-torn Yugoslavia, Slovenia has struggled to establish a recognizable presence on the world stage. The extent of Slovenia’s public-relations problem was revealed in 1999 when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush confused the country with Slovakia, another relatively recent central European country.

Since then, Slovenia, which boasts both Alpine and Mediterranean landscapes, has increasingly sought to market itself as a tourist destination, but it has counted first and foremost on its athletes to publicize the Slovenia brand. Over the past two decades, the country has collected numerous successes in alpine skiing and ski jumping and has sent several of its basketball players to the NBA. The national soccer team has done its part, too, with qualification to one European Championship and two World Cups. The recent triumph against Russia ranks as Slovenia soccer’s highest achievement.

Regardless of how the U.S. performs in this World Cup, the mood of the country is unlikely to be altered. Soccer is a minor sport and will remain so for years to come. But a good run in the World Cup will galvanize millions of television watching sports fans. Team U.S.A. continues to approach the World Cup with high hopes, which were only heightened after its opening draw against favorites England.

“I think we’ve got a shot at winning a group,” said David Rabin, a 26-year-old U.S. supporter from New York, before Friday’s game.