Monday, June 22, 2009

Confederations Cup Miracle

"I could explain the scenario to you in which the United States could make it to the semifinals, but we would be on TV longer than Jerry Lewis on Labor Day."

With that opening, American viewers learned the steep odds facing their side coming into the day, in case they missed the 3-0 no show against Brazil in the previous match. They also learned that Jerry Lewis jokes are just as relevant as they ever were. Thanks Rece Davis.

Yet somehow, the Americans are through, as the result of a 3-0 victory over Egypt and Brazil's 3-0 smackdown of Italy. This brought the Americans even on goal difference with the Italians but through on goals scored, as the Azzurri managed to score only three times in the whole tournament. And those three goals all came in the second half against the US after Ricardo Clark was harshly given a straight red card, and after Italy had already fallen behind despite the man advantage. Let's just say that Italy have failed to impress in the Confederations Cup. Justice is served by the defending World Cup champions being sent home.

(Whew, I managed to write that whole paragraph without writing "Rossi" or "New Jersey").

I'm not sure the same could be said about the Egyptian side that impressed all neutral observers in the first two matches of the tournament. Egypt impressively rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie Brazil, led by two goals from Mohamed Zidan, only to lose the match 4-3 on a late (though just) penalty. Egypt then managed to defeat the masters of the 1-0 match, Italy, by that very scoreline.

While the US was certainly playing improved football at the start against Egypt, there was very little sense of what was to come. Egypt also were creating some chances early. The first breakthrough will be described as perseverance by pro-American commentators, perseverance being defined as "a positive way to spin getting lucky." A throw-in and a good turn by Jozy Altidore resulted in a somewhat threatening cross, but one that goalkeeper Essam El Hadary seemed destined to control. Instead, right back Ahmed Fathi managed to knock the ball from his goalkeeper's hands and knee his goalkeeper in the head, a fairly dreadful two-fer. In the scrum that followed, Charlie Davies managed to deflect the ball into the net. US 1-0.

Meanwhile, Brazil was doing their part by scoring three late first half goals thanks to the interplay between Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano. Fabiano scored two, and Robinho's cross resulted in an own goal from Andrea Dossena, who showed he was capable of scoring against teams besides Real Madrid or Manchester United, albeit in the wrong direction.

With the possibility of advancing now a realistic goal, the United States came out with energy in the second half. Altidore found himself essentially alone from 14 yards, and his shot came off the thigh and then the elbow of defender Hani Said. There was obviously no intent on Said's part, but it's fairly rare to get away with handling the ball six inches off the line. But the United States, gifted all kinds of space by an Egyptian defense that failed to close down in the center of the pitch, continued to move deftly through the midfield. If the first goal was mainly the result of good fortune, the second and third were pure attacking magic from a side that too often produces very little. The second goal was a wonderful two man interchange between perhaps the two best American players, Bradley and Donovan, with Bradley side-footing it home from 12 yards. The third goal came on a spectacular cross from Jonathan Spector (any cross that is actually threatening is spectacular by American standards), with the much-criticized Clint Dempsey out-fighting the Egyptian defender and powering it home.

Spector has been a revelation, and belongs in the starting lineup regardless of the health of the rest of the backline. But I'll offer a brief kudos to Dempsey, whose win and direction on the header was absolutely outstanding, and at the biggest of moments. Much is expected of Dempsey on the US side, and it's fair to say he has not lived up to those expectations. But this is Dempsey's moment, so I won't pile on. No one doubts his ability. When the results match the ability, he's a tremendous asset for the side.

Now it's through to the semifinals. All that remains now to win the Confederations Cup is to defeat maybe the two best squads on the planet, Spain and Brazil. But stranger things have happened. I think.

Finally, I'd also like to thank Francisco for putting this blog together. Hopefully we get some good debates going. Glad to be here at FutbolNation. My main allegiances are to US Soccer and Liverpool, although just to be annoying I'll probably make the case for negative football (occasionally) and take potshots at Real Madrid (frequently), if only because when HalaMadrid starts talking about his side he's pretty much intolerable.

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