USA’s Miracle on Grass (2)

25 June 2009

The United States pulled off the most stunning of sporting upsets in the semifinals of the Fifa Confederations Cup in South Africa on Wednesday night when they beat world number one Spain, the winners of 15 successive matches, and unbeaten in 35 straight, by two goals to nil.

“One for the history books,” trumpeted the official USA Soccer website. The Associated Press likened it to the “Miracle on Ice”, when a US ice hockey team made up of college students beat the powerhouse Soviet Union 4-3 to win gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Leading American football commentator Greg Lalas, the brother of former star US defender Alexei, in an interview with SAfm, placed it on a level with the USA’s 1-0 win over England in 1950 – so unexpected was that result that many publications, thinking there must have been a misprint in the reports they received, published the score as 10-1 in favour of England.

‘Miracle on Grass’

The Americans like their miracles; they called the 1950 football upset “the Miracle on Grass”.

The USA’s victory will serve as motivation for Bafana Bafana ahead of their semifinal clash against Brazil on Thursday, reminding them that anything is possible, no matter the opposition.

In Bloemfontein, on a chilly Wednesday evening, it had seemed that there was no way the USA could win against Spain. Then again, it had seemed there was no way that the Americans would make it to the semi-finals.

After two matches they were bottom of Group B, after a 3-1 loss to Italy, and a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil; two matches, no points, minus-five in goal difference. In their final match, however, the USA drubbed Egypt, who had been very impressive up to that point, 3-0.

Second tie-breaker

That win was enough to see them into the final, but only by the second tie-breaker, total goals, after they finished with the same number of points and goal difference as the Italians.

Spain, with the biggest ever lead in the Fifa World Rankings, undoubtedly possesses the finest team in world football; the European champions are stacked with class from front to back, back to front. But on Wednesday night in Bloemfontein sport again showed that there are very few forgone conclusions on the international stage.

Jozy Altidore, who ironically plays his football in Spain for Villareal, gave the Americans the lead in the 27th minute when he held off his Villareal team-mate Joan Capdevila before beating goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal.

Defensive record

It was the first goal conceded by Spain in 451 minutes or, put another way, in five full matches of regulation time.

The Americans added the insurance of a second goal after 74 minutes through Clint Dempsey. He began the scoring movement by intercepting a pass and was then set up by substitute Benny Feilhaber. Dempsey’s initial shot was stopped, but he followed up to slide the ball across the line.

Spain out-shot the USA three to one on the night – 29 to 9 – but the night belonged to the plucky Americans.

First ever Fifa final

Victory, when it came, earned the USA its first place in a Fifa final since the country began international play in 1916. It was only their second win against a team ranked number one by Fifa. Previously they had beaten Brazil in the Concacaf Gold Cup in 1998.

The only setback suffered by the Americans on the night was a red card shown to Michael Bradley four minutes from time for a two-footed slide tackle on Xabi Alonso. It did little to temper their celebrations.

Coach Bob Bradley said: “Spain are a super team, and it’s a great feeling to have beaten them. We always felt we had a chance in this game.” It’s a good thing Bradley and his players felt that way, because few others thought they could beat Spain.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard summed up many people’s thoughts when he said: “I can’t explain it any more than you can.

“Sports is funny sometimes,” Howard said. “But when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.”

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