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It was the day soccer arrived in the United States.

"We have struggled for years and today we showed we can play with any team in the world. It's unbelievable," U.S. midfielder John Harkes said. "What a great day. What a glorious moment."The United States, which had not won a World Cup game in 44 years, shocked Colombia 2-1 on Wednesday, virtually assuring that it will advance to the second round for the first time since 1930. Only a lopsided loss to Romania on Sunday could eliminate the Americans.

"The United States has arrived as a major nation in the World Cup," forward Eric Wynalda declared. "I feel we will go on from here."

The United States' victory came against a team considered the best from South America coming into the tournament, and a legitimate title contender.

It was no fluke as the Americans outplayed the Colombians.

"A thing that one time seemed like a dream, now we have made it come true," coach Bora Milutinovic said.

After it was over, the crowd of 93,194 at the Rose Bowl gave the American team a standing ovation that lasted almost five minutes, as the players waved and hugged and danced on the field.

"This is the greatest thing in the world for soccer in America," said Harkes, who grew up in New Jersey but plays in England since the United States has no major leagues.

The Americans played with great determination and emotion, and afterward, they seemed stunned by what they had accomplished.

Ernie Stewart, who scored the decisive U.S. goal, said he didn't have time to weigh what was unfolding until after the final whistle.

"I was at the bench and started to think about it and I started crying," he said. "My first World Cup game, my first goal. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me. . . . But now I hope there are more.

"We're definitely going for first place in our group; we don't want to think second or third place."

Defender Paul Caligiuri, who scored the goal that beat Trinidad & Tabago in 1989 and put the United States in the World Cup for the first time since 1950, said this victory was even more significant.

"This is the greatest victory ever for the United States," Caligiuri said.

Defender Alexi Lalas said, "We're the only ones who believed it was possible. It's incredible, it's historical, it's very cool."

The United States, which tied Switzerland 1-1 last Saturday, got a break when Colombian defender Andres Escobar, attempting to clear Harkes' crossing pass to Stewart, kicked the ball into his own net with 10 minutes to go in the first half.

Seven minutes into the second half, Tab Ramos chipped a through pass to Stewart and, when goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba came out to challenge, Stewart rolled the ball past him and into the net.

"You could see the confidence drain from the Colombians," forward Roy Wegerle said.

Colombia's goal came in the final minute, when Adolfo Valencia put a shot over Tony Meola that glanced off the goalkeeper's fingertips and into the net.

Colombia, which earlier lost 3-1 to Romania and is in serious danger of being eliminated in the first round, may have been shaken by a death threat against midfielder Gabriel Gomez that was faxed earlier Wednesday to the team's hotel in Fullerton.

Coach Francisco Maturana said the person who sent the fax threatened to blow up Gomez's house in Colombia. Maturana, who said he considered resigning before the game, replaced Gomez with Herman Gaviria.

After the loss, which likely will cause a great public outcry back home, Maturana said his team played very poorly.

"Unfortunately, we could make only two substitutions," Maturana said. "We would have liked to make 11 substitutions at halftime. I don't think if we had tried we could have played that badly."

U.S. players feared the crowd would be against them and cheer for Colombia, as did the overwhelming pro-Mexico crowd at the Americans' 1-0 exhibition victory at the Rose Bowl earlier this month. But a substantial majority were chanting "U-S-A!"

"When we got out on the field, saw all those American flags, I think it really pumped everybody up," Harkes said. "I think when we played Mexico here recently, there were about 10 American flags in the whole place. Today there must have been 55,000."

Wynalda added: "Today we knew we were in America."

Of the 24 teams in the World Cup, 16 advance to the second stage: the top two teams in each group and the four third-place teams with the best records. The United States has four points and a plus-1 goal difference, second in the group to Switzerland's four points and plus-3. Romania has three points and is minus-1, while Colombia has no points.

Switzerland 4, Romania 1

At Pontiac, Mich., The Swiss soccer revival produced a 4-1 rout of Romania on Wednesday, carrying Switzerland to the verge of the second round.

Two second-half goals by Adrian Knup lifted Switzerland, which has four points in the first round after tying the United States and routing Romania.

The top two teams in each of the six groups are assured advancement.

The victory underscored the turnaround in Swiss soccer under English coach Roy Hodgson. The sport was almost dormant until Hodgson revived the program and guided Switzerland into its first World Cup since 1966. It went 0-3 in that tournament, losing by a combined 9-1.

This team, however, showed its resilience by rebounding from what it considered a disappointing 1-1 tie with the Americans.

Adrian Sutter and Stephane Chapuisat also scored for Switzerland. Gheorghe Hagi connected for Romania.