Penalty row as United States sink to bottom

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The Independent Online

The United States are facing the embarrassing prospect of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after a controversial injury-time penalty saw them lose 2-1 to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifiying tie in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The United States are facing the embarrassing prospect of failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after a controversial injury-time penalty saw them lose 2-1 to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifiying tie in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The United States' defeat in San Jose left them bottom of Group E with only one point from two games. They have yet to play at home but cannot afford any more slip-ups if they are to finish in the top two and go through to the final stage of the qualifying tournament.

The United States appeared set for a point until Hernan Medford, a survivor of the Costa Rica team which reached the last 16 of the 1990 World Cup, converted a penalty in the second minute of added time. It was awarded for an alleged handball by defender Greg Berhalter, but replays clearly showed it had struck him in the face.

Rolando Fonseca had given Costa Rica a 10th-minute lead, with Earnie Stewart equalising in the 66th minute.

The United States midfielder Claudio Reyna had to be restrained by his team-mates from attacking the Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast at the end of the match.

"He [Medford] crossed it, I headed it out of bounds," said Berhalter. "The ref was behind me, there was no way he could have seen what happened. It was a case where the ref was under pressure to do something and he made a bad call."

Ironically, the Costa Ricans, who outplayed their opponents for most of the match and fully deserved their victory, had more cause to be unhappy with the refereeing until the penalty. Paolo Wanchope had what appeared a legitimate goal disallowed when Costa Rica were 1-0 up and the home team were denied a penalty two minutes from time when Austin Berry was scythed down as he looked set to score. In addition, the United States substitute Jason Kreis escaped a red card for an awful tackle on Reynaldo Parks a minute after coming on to the pitch.

"The last eight days, we thought we had lost our World Cup," said Wanchope. "This means we have it back. Today we learned you must never quit. It's not enough to play pretty soccer, you have to dig deep."

Mexico fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat in Trinidad in Group C while Jamaica kept up a 100 per cent record in their group by coming from behind to beat Honduras 3-1 in Kingston in Group D.

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