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USA-Brazil: Confed Cup Clash

It was seen as a preview, a dress rehearsal. A chance to visit South Africa and play meaningful games against tough opponents, all one year out from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Earned by virtue of a 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup title, the chance to play in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup was a golden opportunity for the U.S. What transpired was far more historic than a dry run, and nearly catapulted the U.S. to the top of the footballing world.

Faced with a difficult group containing Brazil, Italy and Egypt, the U.S. had a hard test ahead of them if they were to advance out of the group. Opening losses to Italy and Brazil seemed to close the door, but other results in the group left just a sliver of a chance for U.S. advancement heading into the final group game. Needing a six goal swing in goal differential in the final group match, the amazing happened when the U.S. defeated Egypt 3-0 and Brazil trounced Italy by the same score.

The momentum continued in the semifinals, when the U.S. stunned No. 1-ranked Spain 2-0, putting on a clinic in team defense to advance to their first FIFA tournament final ever. After Brazil dispatched a dogged South Africa side, the final was set for a rematch of their group game from 10 days earlier. But unlike that one-sided defeat, the championship game was a jewel that took the series to another level.

The game couldn’t have started any better for the U.S. Despite two early Brazil corners, the United States scored first with the slightest of touches from Clint Dempsey in the 10th minute. Building out of the back, Jonathan Spector sent a long cross from the right sideline into the center of the box, where Dempsey slightly redirected the ball into the left side of the goal. The goal was Dempsey’s third of the tournament, and no doubt contributed to his being named the third-best player of the tournament and awarded the Bronze Ball.

The next 15 minutes brought Brazil back into the attack, but tournament Golden Gloves winner Tim Howard stood tall to stop successive shots from Robinho, Felipe Melo and Maicon. Offensive chances for the U.S. looked few and far between, but in the 27th minute Landon Donovan and Charlie Davies displayed speed and aggression on a picture-perfect counterattack to take a 2-0 lead.

It started with Ricardo Clark picking off a centering pass by Brazil just outside of the box. Seeing Donovan ahead of him, Clark pushed the ball up towards midfield. Donovan played a one-touch pass far down the left sideline that Charlie Davies sprinted on to. With the two of them facing two defenders, Davies one-touched his own pass to the top of the 18 yard box, where Donovan displayed a great touch to cut it back to his left foot and fire into the right side netting. The lightning fast attack put the U.S. up two goals heading into halftime and left fans in delirium.

But if this series has shown anything, it’s that Brazil can never be counted out. They opened the second half with an incredibly strong attack, and got a fortuitous bounce inside the box that allowed Luis Fabiano to unexpectedly turn and fire on goal. Despite tight marking by Jay DeMerit, the shot went through his legs and past Howard to put Brazil back in the game.

The U.S. earned a few chances as well, but Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar stopped shots from both Donovan and Dempsey in the 65th and 66th minutes. At the other end, Howard came up big to deny Fabiano one on one after the forward had slipped in behind the defense.

Brazil tied the game in the 74th minute off a strong attack by Kaka as well as a bit of luck, as a Robinho shot rebounded off the crossbar right to Fabiano who easily headed it into the open goal.

Sensing the victory, Brazil again came on the attack and the U.S. defense was fighting to repel all attempts. But 10 minutes later, the pressure again broke through and Brazil capitalized on a set piece. A Brazilian corner found Lucio sitting on the back post, and he leapt to head the ball in off the inside of the post. It was the sixth of Brazil’s 14 tournament goals to come off a set piece.

A late charge by the U.S. earned them a corner kick in the 87th minute that Donovan found a rising Oguchi Onyewu for but the central defender’s header went over the bar from 10 yards.

Until this match, the U.S. had never lost a game when leading by two or more goals at halftime. The night was bittersweet for many American players, with the pride of advancing to a FIFA tournament final for the first time tempered by the fact that they fell just short of taking the trophy.

“The feeling is a mix of great disappointment but also great pride,” said U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bob Bradley. “There’s no getting around that it is a difficult loss. Certainly the moment that really hurt was giving up the goal so early in the second half. At that point, they are right back into the game. When we get past the disappointment, we know that we are making progress. You learn from these kinds of experiences and these kinds of games, but it doesn’t make it any easier on the night.”

The match made it 11 out of 15 games between Brazil and the U.S. that have been settled by one goal. Like their advancement in the 2010 World Cup in June, this run to the final captured the American public’s attention. The wins against Egypt and Spain were born from pure work and persistence, traits that this country holds in the highest esteem. But goals like Donovan’s counterattack also displayed a new side to the U.S., namely a flair and creativity often seen lacking in the American game. But as long as the U.S. and Brazil keep playing each other, American ingenuity is sure to show itself more and more on the soccer field as they’re tested by the world’s most creative team.

Match: United States vs. Brazil
Date: June 28, 2009
Competition: FIFA Confederations Cup; Final
Venue: Ellis Park; Johannesburg
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. local time (2:30 p.m. ET)
Attendance: 52,291
Weather: 46 degrees, fair

Scoring Summary:     1     2     F
USA                             2     0     2
BRA                             0     3     3

USA – Clint Dempsey (Jonathan Spector)     10th minute
USA – Landon Donovan (Charlie Davies)      27
BRA – Luis Fabiano (Maicon)                       46
BRA - Luis Fabiano                                     74
BRA - Lucio (Elano)                                    84

USA: 1-Tim Howard; 12-Jonathan Spector, 5-Oguchi Onyewu, 15-Jay DeMerit, 3-Carlos Bocanegra; 10-Landon Donovan, 22-Benny Feilhaber (2-Jonathan Bornstein, 75), 13 -Ricardo Clark (4-Conor Casey, 88), 8-Clint Dempsey; 9-Charlie Davies, 17-Jozy Altidore (16-Sacha Kljestan, 75)
Subs not used: 6-Heath Pearce , 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 11-Marvell Wynne, 18-Brad Guzan, 19-Freddy Adu, 20-Jose Torres, 23-Luis Robles
Not available: 12-Michael Bradley (suspension)
Head Coach: Bob Bradley

BRA: 1-Julio Cesar; 2-Maicon, 3-Lucio, 14-Luisao, 16-Andre Santos (13-Daniel Alves, 66); 18-Ramires (7-Elano, 67), 8-Gilberto Silva, 10-Kaka, 5-Felipe Melo; 9-Luis Fabiano, 11-Robinho
Subs not used: 6-Kleber, 12-Victor, 15-Miranda, 17-Josue, 19-Julio Baptista, 20-Kleberson, 21-Alexandre Pato, 22-Nilmar, 23-Gomes
Not eligible: 4-Juan (injury)
Head Coach: Dunga

Stats Summary: USA / BRA
Shots: 9 / 25
Shots on Goal: 4 / 11
Saves: 8 / 2
Corner Kicks: 5 / 10
Fouls: 15 / 14
Offside: 1 / 5

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Bocanegra         (caution)     19th minute
BRA – Melo                 (caution)     25
BRA – Santos              (caution)     36
BRA – Lucio                (caution)     70

Referee: Martin Hansson (SWE)
Assistant Referee 1: Henrik Andren (SWE)
Assistant Referee 2: Fredrik Nilsson (SWE)
Fourth Official: Benito Archundia (MEX)