Win sparks US football frenzy

The outcome of the 2009 Fifa
Confederations Cup is now an American
(Image: Wikimedia Commons) reporter

The US football team’s entry into the Confederations Cup final after their shock win over heavyweights Spain has sparked enormous American interest in the 2010 Fifa World Cup, according to officials.

“There is huge demand for World Cup tickets. Already 93 000 have been sold and the response since last night’s victory has been incredible,” Jermaine Craig, the 2010 Local Organising Committee’s media officer, said at a media briefing at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium on Thursday.

“There’s phenomenal excitement from the US,” he added.

The initially disregarded US team trounced European champions Spain in a 2-0 victory in the Confederations Cup semifinal at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.

The win would do much to boost football in the US, said Nicolas Maingot, Fifa’s head of media, pointing out that the sport had been developing there for many years. “A result like this can only help,” he said.

The US media spared no adjectives in its reaction to the victory. The prestigious New York Times ran with the story in its digital edition almost as soon as the final whistle had blown. Under the headline “US Victory Was a Miracle on Grass”, the newspaper compared the win to the “Miracle on Ice”, the famous victory by its amateur ice-hockey players over the mighty Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Reporter George Vecsey ranked the win as “Probably the greatest victory by the men’s national soccer team”, before going on to compare the result to some of the greatest performances in US soccer history.

“But for these 90 minutes on Wednesday, the Americans were better than the Spaniards – brave and smart and lucky, too. And they will always have this result, like the Americans who shocked England in the 1950 World Cup, a simpler time, and the Americans who demoralised Mexico and then nearly beat Germany in the giddy quarter-final in the World Cup in 2002.”

Putting the shock scoreline into perspective, Vecsey wrote: “Nobody in the American soccer federation will dare to claim that this was the day the country came of age in the world’s most important sport.

“But this was a step.”

Meanwhile, South Africa coach Joel Santana has said his team could take much encouragement from their semifinal performance against Brazil on Thursday night, despite being knocked out of the tournament by the 1-0 score.

Bafana Bafana looked inspired at a packed Ellis Park Stadium, with their determination and creative midfield play causing the Confederations Cup defending champions plenty of trouble. But home hearts were broken two minutes before the end when substitute Daniel Alves rifled in a free kick to silence the near 50 000 crowd and book the South Americans a date with US in Sunday’s final.

“My players looked very balanced for most of the game,” Santana said. “They looked very calm and relaxed without much nervousness. It seemed like we would hold on, but Brazil used their experience in the set-piece at the end and won the game.

“The important thing is that we are very proud to have played in the way we did against a national team that is recognised as one of the best in the world. We were able to hold our own, which was quite noteworthy. With the World Cup in mind, we should remember that we still have another year to prepare ourselves.”

Santana, a Brazilian, said he enjoyed the “emotional night” of his players taking on his fellow countrymen, but preferred to focus on his newly adopted country, which he believes has the potential to make further headway in 2010.