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It appeared that during the Confederations Cup, we saw the best and worst of the U.S. Soccer team.
It is understandable that many won’t know a thing about the Confederations Cup, so before getting into the Americans’ performance, here’s a quick outlook about what exactly the Cup entails. The tournament consists of eight teams, six winners of the previous Confederation Championship and the leagues within FIFA, the previous winner of the World Cup, and the host country. The Cup was adopted by FIFA in 1997 and since 2005 was adapted as a precursor to the World Cup.
The United States team has been a strong contender in their Confederation, CONCACAF, and earned a spot in in the tournament for the fourth time. From the beginning, things looked dismal as the U.S. was placed into a tournament with Egypt, Brazil and Italy, the reigning World Cup Champion.
First up for the United States was the fourth ranked team in the world, Italy, which was not an easy task at all. It seems the US was prepared for anything, even taking an early lead thanks to Landon Donovan, however, things soon began to unravel. New Jersey born Giuseppe Rossi tied the game in the 58th minute after being subbed into the game two minutes earlier. Thirteen minutes later, Daniele De Rossi gave Italy the lead and they never looked back. Throw in another goal by Rossi and the US were handed a 3-1 loss.
For the United States, it was a brutal blow. Donavan’s American record 40th international goal was over shadowed by the blown lead and things were not looking up from there.
Perennial powerhouse and fifth ranked Brazil was next in line. Most are aware of Brazil’s prowess on the soccer field. They are five-time World Cup Champions and it didn’t take long to show the U.S. what they were made of.
Six minutes into the game, Felipe Melo scored. The U.S. was held to five shots the whole game, with zero on goal, compared to Brazil who almost tripled the effort with 14 shots with eight on goal. Later in the game, the one name wonders took over with Robinho scoring in the nineteenth minute and Maicon scoring in the second half.
Brazil controlled every facet of the game. Still, with an upset by the 40th ranked team in the world, Egypt, over Italy there was still a chance, albeit it a minuscule one, for the United States making it into the semifinals.
Two things needed to happen. One was that the United States needed to beat Egypt by at least three goals.Egypt was riding high off a victory over Italy, so that was no given. Second, Brazil needed to roll over Italy by three goals. Considering the histories of these teams it would be hard to imagine the stars lining up for the U.S.
Well, it turns out pigs flew that day. Two goals by Luis Fabiano and an own goal by Italy’s Andrea Dossena gave Brazil the three-goal win and put America’s fate in their own hands. In the match up versus Egypt, the U.S. finally arrived and goals by Charlie Davies and Michael Bradley made a trip out of group play look possible. Then in the 71st minute, former Revolution standout, Clint Dempsey ended his nine month international scoring drought and put the US in the second round. The celebration was short lived as America was given a mountain of an obstacle in front of them.
A match up with No. 1-ranked Spain was set up. Spain dominated its group play with wins of 5-0 over New Zealand, 1-0 over Iraq and 2-0 over host country South Africa. The U.S. squad was not at all successful in previous games against the No. 1 team in the world, possessing a 1-7-1 record in those situations. It would take another miracle and a perfect game to see the U.S. playing for the Cup championship.
With everyone apparently writing off the American squad, it was time for a statement game. Jozy Altidore gave the US a 1-0 lead with the 25th minute and for the second straight game, and Clint Dempsey added a goal for a 2-0 lead. After not allowing a goal for group play and outscoring their opponents 8-0 in the process, Spain didn’t have an answer. Despite having 11 shots on goal compared to America’s four, Spain would have to take the loss and settle on playing for a third place finish against South Africa. South Africa’s loss meant that there would be a rematch for the U.S. against Brazil.
Brazil, complete with a slew of single-named superstars including 2007 FIFA player of the year Kakà, was looking for a repeat of the previous game (a 3-0 Brazil win). Again, the American squad was written off and told they were lucky to be there. However, this time the U.S. was playing with some well-deserved pride. Making their first ever appearance in a FIFA final, the U.S. was ready from the start.
Nine minutes in, Dempsey added his third goal in three games and seemingly took a load of pressure off the Americans. Then, 27 minutes later, a beautiful play from Jozy Altidore led to an chance that did not go unfinished. A drive up the field with Landon Donavan led to a golden opportunity that saw the L.A. Galaxy score the goal, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead. Late saves from Goalkeeper Tim Howard kept the United States on top at the half. Just ten days after being shutout 3-0 by Brazil, the U.S. was now entering the locker room with a strong hold on the game.
However, after seeing the best of the Americans, the worst began to show again. Shortly after the beginning of the second half, Brazil’s Luis Fabiano finally broke through, adding a goal to cut it to a 2-1 game. It appeared to be tied up in the 60th minute when Kakà’s header appeared to go past the goal line, but the U.S. caught a break when it was said it didn’t go in completely. Then in the 73rd minute, it began to fall further apart when Fabiano scored his second of the game and tied it up. The Americans began to look exhausted and eventually gave Brazil the lead on Lùcio’s goal with only seven minutes remaining in regulation. Even the added three minutes of stoppage time didn’t give the U.S. a break, and they let the Confederations Cup slip through their fingers.
When it was all said and done, the United States finally appeared to have arrived on the international soccer stagfe. Things were dismal in the opening two games with the losses to Italy and Brazil, however they appeared to catch a break with the Egypt win and Italy loss. When they had to step up, they were successful. When they were told they couldn’t beat Spain, they made a statement game and took down the number one team. Even though they gave up a 2-0 lead to Brazil, the fact they made a Championship game, and held their own, is something to hold their heads up about.
The United States has made an impact that won’t go ignored. The experience in this tournament should go a long way and give confidence to a team that proved it can play with the big boys.