Friday, June 26, 2009

South Africa-0 : Brazil-1

Perhaps in the euphoria of the United States' win many forgot that the other semifinal was played today in Johannesburg. In part, overlooking this match related no one believing another huge upset would occur in South Africa. Indeed, Brazil did what Spain could not and took care of business against an inferior team. It goes without saying that the United States always posed the greater upset threat than the South Africans.

Which is not to say South Africa let the Brazilians off the hook easily. Tied 0-0 until the 88th minute, South Africa, as was their style throughout the tournament, did their fair share of attacking, coming dangerously close to drawing first blood several times. On several interventions Julio Cesar proved that not only is he the best keeper Brazil has had in ages, but very well may be on his way to being one of the best in the world. Meanwhile, the Brazilians, perhaps cognizant of Wednesday's upset seemed less attack-minded and more willing to bide their time for the right moment.

South Africa locked Kaka up tightly, reducing him to two standout plays and little more. But, as is so often the case, one individual's brilliance can win a game in the snap of a finger. And the pentacampeones had more players capable of just that level of footballing genius. As the game wore on, the South Africans, perhaps feeling the pressure of the moment, began to reduce their offensive output and played to hold the game until extra time and penalties. The Brazilians, sensing blood in the water turned it up a notch. Dunga took off Santos for Dani Alves (usually a rightback) at the leftback position in the 82nd minute. Alves proceeded to prove that when a team has the two best wingbacks in the world, both should start, even if both are right footed.

In the 88th minute Ramires drew a foul on the edge of the box, and Alves dropped the hammer, ripping it around the right side of the wall and past Khune. In the South African keeper's defense, he was well-positioned and did what we could, but perhaps only two or three keepers in the world could have stopped that ball, and only on their best day. For all intents and purposes the game was over, and the referee's whistle minutes later was a mere formality. Brazil moves on to play the U.S. this Sunday, while Spain will play South Africa for third place.

As is so often the case when a good team is stuck playing for third, South Africa will probably take the bronze as Spain has been completely deflated by their loss. Add in that South Africa plays at home, and no one should be surprised with such a result. But honestly, no one will care one way or the other.

The more interesting question, of course, is this: Can the U.S. beat Brazil? We've seen Egypt push the Brazilians to the edge by attacking them. South Africa seemed to improve on Egypt's strategy by blending it with stouter defense. Then again, the Italians tried to attack and were thrashed by Brazil. Throw in the inherent difficulty of beating a team twice (at times overstated), and it seems inevitable that we're likely in for a tight game on Sunday. Bradley will be sorely missed, especially considering Kaka will want to improve on yesterday's performance.

Check in on Saturday or Sunday for a preview of both the third place match and the final.

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