COLUMBIA - As soon as U.S. Soccer midfielder Landon Donovan punched in the game-winning goal against Algeria Wednesday morning, he was met with the expected jubilant response from the American faithful in South Africa.
His U.S. teammates rushed over to mob him. His coach, Bob Bradley, jumped and screamed. U.S. fans present danced and waved their American flags.
The celebration in South Africa broadcast by ESPN rivaled that at Bengals Bar & Grill, where a crowd of about 120 fans gathered to watch the soccer game that started at 8:30 a.m. central time.
Bengals, with its 21 televisions, opened at 8:30 a.m. to cater to the starting time of the match, two and half hours earlier than it’s usual 11 a.m. opening time.
The scene inside wasn’t always this jubilant however. Before the regulation 90 minutes expired, things were looking pretty bleak for those cheering for a U.S. victory.
Multiple TVs simultaneously showed the England-Slovenia match which potentially controlled whether the United States would advance to the round of 16 or not.
Jeff Dittmer sat on a bar stool in front of two TVs, with a game on each, American flag clenched in hand, head darting between the coverage of the two matches.
“It sucks knowing England is up right now. I’d rather America be winning,” Dittmer said just after halftime of the U.S. game.
The fact that the England game was being broadcast the same time as the U.S. game “added to the excitement,” according to Bengals general manager Jay Rader.
As the game progressed, and the outcome for the U.S soccer team became increasingly bleak, fans at Bengals became more and more quiet.
Dittmer draped his flag around him and hopped off his bar stool to join several others standing up and pacing the length off the bar. Fans seemed to get angrier, and increasingly vocal, as time went on.
The scene dramatically changed during the 91st minute however. The sea of red, white and blue in Bengals let out a collective roar when the U.S. went up in the waning seconds of the game. Some jumped up and started running around. Others hugged. Still others high-fived and started chanting "U-S-A."
Soccer fans described the the atmosphere as “very festive,” “energetic,” and “awesome.”
"I’ve never seen a crowd so excited in my life. It’s pretty cool to watch a sporting event where the entire world gets together to watch,” said Nick McAfee, who was at Bengals at the time.
“It’s so amazing to have it happen so late in the game like that,” Erica Lembke said, “makes for a fun afternoon.”