JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - To most human eyes, no matter how far or close the vantage point, it looked as if the United States had scored what appeared to be the game-winning goal, despite Slovenia's relentless fouling, in the 86th minute of Friday's eventual 2-2 tie.

U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu had dodged a Slovenia defender and connected with a curving free kick from Landon Donovan, slotting the U.S.'s third goal into the back of the net and setting off a mass celebration within Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

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With Edu's goal, the United States would have, remarkably, recovered from a 0-2 halftime deficit.

But to the only pair of eyes that mattered, those of referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali, it appeared quite differently.

"I'm a little gutted," Donovan said immediately after. "I don't know how they stole the goal from us. I'm not sure what the call was."

Somewhere among the dozen or so players grappling within the box, Coulibaly apparently saw a foul committed by U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra, who was wrestling with a Slovenian defender just a yard from Coulibaly, or perhaps by U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, standing just in front of the goal, or maybe even Edu himself.

Coulibaly blew his whistle and waved off the game-winning goal, throwing a wrench into the middle of America's stadium-wide hysteria.

After the game, Bradley, appearing devastated, said there was no point in talking about the call.

"I'm assuming there was a foul somewhere," Donovan said. "Obviously, it couldn't have been offside. We asked the ref many times who it was on or what the foul was, but he couldn't explain it."

Immediately after the team's abbreviated celebration, a rush of players approached Coulibaly demanding an explanation.

"It was the guy's first World Cup game, so maybe he got a little caught up in the moment," said Donovan of Coulibaly. "Overall, it wasn't too bad, but you can't take away a good goal from a team. In a World Cup, that's disappointing."

Donovan said he wasn't sure Coulibaly spoke English, because he seemed to ignore the team's repeated requests for explanation.

"Without seeing it, from what I've heard, there were three fouls in the box, all were from Slovenia players," said U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

After the game, former U.S. player turned announcer, Eric Wynalda called for an investigation of Coulibaly, claiming the referee blew the whistle on nearly all of the U.S.'s set pieces and seemed to want the game to end in a tie.

"Honestly, I think on the set piece, most of what took place was that Slovenia's players were holding our players," coach Bradley said.

Immediately after the final whistle, a trio of U.S. players had to be pulled away from Coulibaly, all of them demanding accountability for what they believed was an unjustified whistle.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.