The American Dream Realised (Oh Yes We Can!)
USA caused another sensation at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, beating European champions Spain 2-0 to book a place in their first-ever world final. The Spaniards controlled possession at Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium, but the USA, losers of their first two games here in South Africa, played a brave and spirited 90 minutes in freezing temperatures, pulling off a historic victory with goals in each half from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
Bob Bradley's side made a lively start to proceedings, surging into attack early against their illustrious adversaries. Young Charlie Davies, rewarded with a second straight start by the coach in attack, was causing havoc at the Spanish back. His audacious overhead volley nearly caught out Iker Casillas before bouncing wide in the seventh minute. Carlos Bocanegra, back in the team and wearing the captain's armband for the first time at these finals, went close shortly after with his head and Dempsey tried his luck from distance.
After a slow start, though, the European champions began to assert themselves and take control of possession, Barcelona creator Xavi leading the way. Cesc Fabregas saw his shot in the 12th minute fly over the bar, while Fernando Torres and David Villa both went close to opening the scoring.
Despite Spain's superior technique and pedigree, the ambitious, almost insolent, North Americans stole in and took the lead. After a lovely bit of interplay between Dempsey and Davies, Altidore shook off his former Villarreal team-mate Joan Capdevila to meet a fine through ball and slam home from 18 yards. Casillas got a palm to it, but the Real Madrid goalkeeper simply could not deal with the power in the strike.
The Spaniards continued to dictate the pattern as the half wore on. As the men in red chased their equaliser, Liverpool striker Fernando Torres was again denied, this time by a fine kick-save from Tim Howard with just seconds to go in the half.
Spain emerged from the changing rooms with renewed vigour, Villa turned brilliantly in the box after five minutes but Howard again was equal to the effort.
A bit of desperation looked to be creeping into the Spanish attack near the hour-mark. Villa, Torres and the ever-present Xavi were trying to force their way through an increasingly cohesive US rearguard, marshalled by giant centre-back Oguchi Onyewu. Last-ditch tackles and heroic blocks were coming to define the American resistance. Sergio Ramos slammed off the post in the 64th minute as Spain's pressure was beginning to look irresistible. Bradley brought on midfielder Benny Feilhaber for striker Davies, hoping to shore things up with a little under half an hour to go.
Against the run of play, though, it was the Americans, not the Spaniards, who got the crucial goal. Clint Dempsey, fresh off scoring the third goal in the win over Egypt that saw the US through to this semi-final, took advantage of a rare error by Ramos to poke home an opportunistic goal from close range. The celebrations that followed were in perfect accord with the historic nature of the goal, and the eventual 2-0 victory over the reigning European champions and the world's No1ranked team.
The States will now play in their first-ever final at a major international competition, taking on the winner of tomorrow's semi-final between hosts South Africa and runaway favourites Brazil. However, they will line up in the ultimate match without holding midfielder Michael Bradley who was sent off with three minutes remaining for a two-footed lunge.