Back to Brazil: Breaking Through
Entering the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup in February of 1998, Brazil had only lost two games since winning the 1994 World Cup. The U.S. hadn’t scored against Brazil since their first match against them in 1930. But as the tournament began, the U.S. was on a six-game unbeaten streak, dating back to Sept. 7, 1997, during which the U.S. rattled off three wins and two ties in their final five games of 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying. A January win against Sweden and two group victories saw the U.S. entering their semifinal tilt on a five game winning streak, giving the home side immense confidence.
With the 1994 World Cup’s best player in Romario as well as a pedigree of four World Cup titles, Brazil certainly demanded a full measure of respect from the U.S. But what Romario, and the rest of Brazil hadn’t counted on, was the first class performance that day by U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller. It was a game so well played that afterwards Romario would call it “the greatest performance I have ever seen by a goalkeeper”.
The match began as expected, decidedly in Brazil’s favor. Within the first 12 minutes, Keller already had to make two fantastic saves as Brazil got started on what would eventually be 10 shots on goal. In the 12th minute, Romario got a shot off that was blocked by Alexi Lalas, but he quickly gathered the rebound and put his second effort on frame. Diving to his right, Keller was just able to reach the shot and push it wide of the post. In the 24th minute, Romario was sent through on a breakaway and Keller again denied the striker from close range, snatching a near post shot out of the air.
Offensively, the U.S. had but one faint chance in the first half, but with Keller again denying Romario on a point-blank header in the dying minutes (a save so good it caused the Brazilian to pause and give the rising Keller a pat on the back) the U.S. looked like they’d have the defensive strength to take Brazil to the limit.
While Keller continued his career night in goal, from the bench, another hero appeared for the U.S. In the 60th minute, head coach Steve Sampson brought on Preki Radosavljevic, known simply as Preki, who had scored the game-winning goal against Costa Rica in the team’s last group match. The substitute wasted no time, netting a superb strike with is trademark left foot in the 65th minute.
The play started with the pace of Eric Wynalda, running up the left side of the pitch. Wynalda centered the ball to Preki who was in the center of the park about 25 yards from goal, but was immediately marked. Touching to his right at first, the midfielder then pulled the ball back onto his left foot and drove a powerful shot just inside the left post to beat Claudio Taffarel and give the U.S. their first lead against Brazil in history.
With several more saves by Keller and countless blocked shots by the defense, the U.S. was able to hang on for the final 25 minutes. With each passing minute their play grew stronger as a victory got closer, and when the final whistle blew, every player on the field knew the importance of this victory.
“This ranks up there with America’s victory over Colombia and England,” said Sampson after the game. “It couldn’t have happened without phenomenal goalkeeping by Keller and a terrific strike by Preki.”
On a night that the U.S. was missing Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos and Thomas Dooley to injury, it was clear that the only chance for victory required somebody on the team to step up and own the game themselves. Rising to the occasion was Keller, who would eventually be named tournament MVP despite not even playing in the first two games of the tournament for the U.S.
The win was the first, and still only, victory for the U.S. against the now five-time World Cup champions. It was an historic victory for the United States that not only gave them the confidence to beat the world’s best in coming years, but also furthered the rise of worldwide respect for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Match: United States vs. Brazil
Date: February 10, 1998
Competition: CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal
Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Los Angeles, Calif.
Kickoff: 8 p.m. local time
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
BRA 0 0 0
USA – Preki Radosavljevic (Eric Wynalda) 65th minute
USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 12-Jeff Agoos, 4-Mike Burns, 22-Alexi Lalas, 3-Eddie Pope; 2-Frankie Hejduk, 6-John Harkes, 13-Cobi Jones, 9-Joe-Max Moore, 11-Eric Wynalda (20-Brian McBride, 81), 7-Roy Wegerle (14-Preki Radosavljevic, 60)
Subs not used: 24-Juergen Sommer; 15-Roy Lassiter, 17-Marcelo Balboa, 19-Chris Henderson, 21-Claudio Reyna, 23-Gregg Berhalter
Head Coach: Steve Sampson
BRA: 1-Taffarel; 2-Ze Maria, 3-Junior Baiano, 4-Goncalves, 5-Mauro Silva (16-Doriva, 7); 6-Junior, 7-Edmundo, 8-Flavio Conceicao (17-Marcos Santos, 71), 9-Zinho; 18-Sergio Manoel (20-Elber, 75), 11-Romario
Subs not used: 10-Denilson, 12-Carlos Germano, 13-Russo, 14-Cesar Belli, 15-Sylvinho, 19-Donizete
Head Coach: Mario Zagallo
Stats Summary: USA / BRA
Shots: 12 / 21
Shots on Goal: 5 / 10
Saves: 10 / 4
Corner Kicks: 6 / 4
Fouls: 8 / 8
Offside: 4 / 1
USA – Harkes (caution) 30th minute
Referee: Ali Mohammed Bujsaim (UAE)
Assistant Referee 1: John Nielsen (CAN)
Assistant Referee 2: E. Amulfo Gozalez Gudiel (GUA)
Fourth Official: Mohamed Nazri Abdullah (MAS)