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Olsen’s goal in injury time provides 1-1 draw with Tunisia in friendly.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

BIRMIINGHAM, Ala. (Sunday March 12, 2000) -- In a match dominated by the United States, it took a goal from reserve midfielder Ben Olsen two minutes into injury time to allow the U.S. to salvage a 1-1 tie with a stubborn, defensive-minded Tunisia before 21,637 at Legion Field this afternoon.

It looked like the U.S. was headed for a 1-0 defeat when midfielder Eddie Lewis lined up a free kick from about 35 yards out. He tried to find Brian McBride in the penalty area, but the striker was held and could not get airborne. Instead he stubbed the ball into a Tunisian defender.

The ball came back to midfielder John O'Brien whose attempted shot squirted wide of the right post where Olsen blasted the ball home from point blank range.

"I wish I could say I saw him out there and got it to him," O'Brien said with a smile. "But truthfully, I was trying to shoot and the ball came off the side of my foot. I saw a big smile coming up on his face so I knew the ball was going to be in the net. I'm just glad Ben was out there."

For his part, Olsen said "I was hoping the ball would come to me. I was wide open and then I saw it rolling to me. This was a very important goal for me. I was determined to show Bruce I belong on this squad."

Although the U.S. was credited with 16 shots, this match was not exactly an offensive battle. The U.S. had only a few good chances, several by Jason Kreis, but neither Kreis nor his teammates were able to convert. Tunisia, meantime, seemed content to get numbers of defenders behind the ball and to wait for a counterattack.

The match opened up some in the second half. The U.S. put inserted Olsen after intermission and he provided a spark that was absent in the first half. Tunisia also began to push forward.

In the 58th minute Tunisia put in two of its better players, normal starters Ali Zitouni and Maher Kanzari, and the two combined to put their side ahead 1-0 in the 78th. With U.S. defenders committed into the attack, Zitouni stripped the ball from U.S. midfielder Chris Armas almost on the center line, and he was off on a long diagonal run.

As Zitouni entered the U.S. box, he slipped the ball to the 18 yard-line to Kanzari, who carried to his right before bouncing his shot back just inside the left post. The ball eluded to reach of American goalkeeper Tony Meola, who had strayed out to his six yard-line and did not have proper time to react to the shot.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena said he would still have found a lot positive about the day even if Olsen had not gotten the last gasp goal. “I turned to Dave (assistant coach Dave Sarachan) in the 88th minute and I said I was pleased with our effort today. There was a lot positive out there. We created chances. We got very good matches from (John) O'Brien and (David) Regis and Olsen. I thought Jason Kreis got chances. He needs to be able to finish. Our three defenders played a very strong match. Tunisia had only one shot all day, although I am not happy it was a goal.

"So obviously if I was satisfied when it was 1-0, I am pleased we pulled out the draw."

The first half was generally uneventful. In the 44th minute, midfielder Chad Deering put the ball into Tunisia's net, out of a scrum immediately in front of Tunisia's goal, but it was disallowed because Lewis was ruled offside, lying on the ground at the left post having been hit by a Tunisian defender.

The only other U.S. chance came in the 26th minute when a laser pass from John O'Brien put Jason Kreis through alone on Tunisian goalkeeper Chokri El Quaer, but Kreis shot high.

Arena was especially pleased with pro-U.S. crowd. "I think this was the first time in a year we played in the U.S. with the crowd on our side," he said. "If there were 21.000 here today, that was about 20,500 more U.S. fans than we have had at our last several matches on U.S. soil."

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

United States 1, Tunisia 1

Lineups: United States - Tony Meola, Carlos Llamosa, Robin Fraser, David Regis, Chris Armas, John O'Brien, Eddie Lewis, Chad Deering (Chris Albright 62), Cobi Jones (Ben Olsen 46), Brian McBride, Jason Kreis). Tunisia - Chokri El Ouaer, Kaled Badra, Radhi Jaidi, Mohamed Mkacher, Tarek Thabet, Raouf Bouzayene, Sirajeddine Chini, Kaies Ghodhbene (Maher Kanzari 58), Hassen Gabsi, Imed Mhedhebi, Zied Jaziri (Ali Zitouni 58).

Scoring:
Tunisia - Kanzari (Zitouni) 78.
United States - Olsen (O’Brien) 92+.

Shots: United States 16, Tunisia 4. Saves: United States 0, Tunisia 4. Fouls: United States 18, Tunisia 21. Corner kicks: United States 6, Tunisia 2. Offside: United States 3, Tunisia 2.

Referee: Peter Prendergast (Jamaica). Referee assistants: Ricardo Morgan (Jamaica), Michael Mitchell (Jamaica). Attendance: 21,637 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Weather: Sunny, cool, 62 degrees.

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