BRENT LATHAM - Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Spain vs United States
Conferations Cup - Wednesday June 24, 2009
Free State Stadium
Bob Bradley's men pulled off a stunning upset over the world's number one ranked team, beating Spain to advance to their first-ever FIFA international final.
The Americans were buoyed by captain Carlos Bocanegra, who returned to action, at left back, alongside the usual central tandem of Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu.
In somewhat uncharacteristic fashion, the American skipper opted to play Spain straight up, coming out in a 4-4-2 with Josmer Altidore and Charlie Davies up top. In just the sixth minute the US served notice when Davies, starting again after his sensational display against Egypt, pulled off a full bike in the area that rolled just wide.
A minute later Davies was at it again, flashing a header across the face of the Spanish goal, before Clint Dempsey tried his luck from outside the box and missed just a little wide.
The US continued to pick its spots and find space, and Landon Donovan had his own shot from outside the area after a long run forward with the ball.
Spain didn't create its first real chance until the 21st minute, when Albert Riera picked up a ball on the right wing and cracked a shot that rolled horizontally across the box and out for a throw in.
Jozy Altidore, who plays his club soccer for Villarreal in Spain, put the Americans on the board first in the 26th minute when he turned defender Capdevila. The young striker's shot smacked off the hand goalkeeper Iker Casillas and then the post to give the Red, White and Blue a stunning lead.
Spain came forward in irritation, and David Villa missed the top corner from six yards after a deflection landed at his feet in the box.
The Americans were still looking dangerous, and in the 36th minute Donovan lofted a set piece into the box where a storming Dempsey headed high, with a wide open Carlos Bocanegra crashing in behind him.
As the half wore on, Spain dominated possession and came closest through Fernando Torres, who beat Bocanegra into the box but could not beat Tim Howard, who kicked away his low shot.
The Spanish came out furious in the second half as David Villa ripped a shot that Tim Howard saved brilliantly on the dive to preserve the shutout.
In the 54th minute the Spaniards had a legitimate penalty claim denied by Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda when Donovan bundled over Xavi in front of the net.
But it was not to be the Spaniards night. After a couple more close misses by Spain, who had eight shots on goal in total, the Americans would build a two goal lead in the 74th minute when Dempsey jumped on a poor touch from Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos at the far post. The Fulham-man easily poked the ball past a helpless Casillas for the second goal of the game.
The goal was the result of beautiful combination play beginning on the foot of Benny Feilhaber, who had entered for Davies. Feilhaber advanced the ball downfield and played it for Donovan, who sliced a pass into the area that was touched by two Spanish defenders before Dempsey got his foot on it.
The low point for team USA came late, when Michael Bradley was mysteriously sent off in the 86th minute for a nothing challenge, ruling him out of the Confederations Cup final against the winner of the Brazil and South Africa match to be played Thursday.
"We're excited to be in the final," Bob Bradley said later at the press conference. "Whenever you're in the final you have a chance to win the tournament."
"The motivation will be high and regardless of whether we play against Brazil or the Bafana Bafana. The challenge wil be great, but at that point only two teams will have the chance to lift the tropy."
"Of course it's disappointing to go down a man at the very end," the coach said about his son's sending off. "We're constantly working with all our players to play aggressively but also to be disciplined."
"Anytime any of your players pours his heart into a game and to see him lose the chance to play in a final, I think players all around the world understand what that means. That's as difficult and tough as it gets."
With the crowd chanting USA-USA and screaming Ole Ole, the Spanish frustration grew as the two goal lead proved too much to overcome. The Spaniards left the field in irritation, as the Americans celebrated in front of a newly appreciative crowd.