Confederations Cup – Brilliant USA shock Spain to make final
The USA sealed one of the biggest upsets in international football history with a 2-0 win over European champions Spain in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey gave Bob Bradley’s warriors a hard-fought victory against the FIFA-ranked world number one side, who were unable to match the CONCACAF champions for work-rate and commitment.
The famous victory was soured by the late dismissal of Michael Bradley, son of the head coach, who will now miss the final against either Brazil or hosts South Africa on Sunday.
It was Spain’s first defeat since November 2006 and snapped a world-record 15-game winning streak and 35 without defeat for the team widely expected to win the tournament.
The win was all the more remarkable given the context of the USA’s last victory, in the final group game at the weekend: after losing their opening two games to Italy and Brazil, they were left needing to beat African champions Egypt by three clear goals and hope that Brazil beat Italy by at least the same score.
When the impossible happened in that match, a second shock result was surely even less likely.
While Bradley’s men were lucky at times, they closed and harried everything Spain attempted and displayed a master-class in defence and counter-attack.
Birmingham target Oguchi Onyewu and Watford stopper Jay DeMerit were immense at the back, putting their bodies on the line, winning every header and making a series of incredible blocks to deny a full-strength Spain side missing only the injured Andres Iniesta.
The USA had the first good chance, going close through a spectacular Charlie Davies bicycle kick on nine minutes, with the Hammarby striker flicking a header wide soon afterwards after good work down the left by Carlos Bocanegra.
The Americans had their third chance in three minutes when Fulham‘s Dempsey drilled a low shot just wide which was followed by Spain’s first shot on goal, Cesc Fabregas‘s looping half volley that flew over.
The USA took the lead on 26 minutes when Altidore turned Joan Capdevila on the edge of the box and drilled a low shot at Iker Casillas that the Real Madrid keeper could only divert into the bottom left.
The USA should have gone 2-0 up with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, but Dempsey headed wide while attacking a Landon Donovan corner off balance, with Bocanegra unmarked and far better placed to score at the far post.
Howard made another superb reflex save two minutes into the second half, an acrobatic tip wide after Villa sent a seemingly unstoppable curler towards the right-hand side of the goal.
Six minutes later, Spain had a penalty appeal waved away when Xavi appeared to be pushed over in the box by Donovan, tracking back as he did for much of the game, but Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda waved away their appeals.
The final half hour of the match followed one pattern – Spain attacked while the USA defended bravely and heroically, with the occasional counter stretching the Red Fury’s only relative weak point: their attack-minded defence.
Villa fired wide from the edge of the box, Riera was denied by a DeMerit block, Howard made successive saves from Fabregas and Sergio Ramos while DeMerit again got his bulky frame in the way when Torres looked certain to finish.
Spain were throwing everything at the USA, and the kitchen sink was long gone when Ben Clark and Bocanegra combined with a tag-team block to deny Ramos another clear shot at goal.
And on 74 minutes the USA sealed the biggest smash-and-grab since Greece won the European Championships when a counter attack sliced the Spaniards apart.
Donovan raced clear on the right and drilled a low ball across goal that took a touch off the heel of Gerard Pique, taking it away from Casillas.
Ramos was well-placed to hack the ball to safety but the Real Madrid right-back inexplicably took a touch that allowed the alert Dempsey to turn on to the loose ball and fire into an empty net from six yards.
Spain spent the final quarter hour hurling themselves at the USA, but they were unable to create anything meaningful, a Puyol drive blocked by Onyewu on 87 minutes the best they could muster, while their opponents were denied two clean runs at goal when Altidore and substitute Conor Casey were both incorrectly adjudged offside.
It was not all good for the Americans when star midfielder Bradley was harshly shown a straight red card for sliding in on Xavi with four minutes remaining.
It was a late tackle that, in most leagues, would have warranted a caution but referees have been very strict in this tournament, with this dismissal the third in four matches for mis-timed tackles by USA players.
Coach Vicente del Bosque threw on Santi Cazorla and Juan Manuel Mata but the added width yielded no reward and the Euro 2008 winners crashed out to a side who conceded six and scored just once in their first two games of the competition.
Reda Maher / Eurosport