BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – The world will surely take notice of this.
The U.S. soccer team is in the final of the Confederations Cup, beating mighty Spain 2-0.
Even more stunning, the Americans were on the verge of elimination and ready to head home last weekend before a reversal of fortune. On Wednesday, goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey led to an upset of the planet’s top-ranked team.
Call it a miracle on grass – maybe not the World Cup, but still an American soccer echo of the U.S. hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
By winning, the maligned U.S. advanced to its first men’s FIFA final since starting play in 1916.
Altidore scored in the 27th minute and Dempsey added a goal in the 74th as the Americans became the first team to defeat Spain since Romania in November 2006.
“It goes to show what hard work and commitment to each other can bring,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made eight saves as he frustrated David Villa and Fernando Torres. “Sometimes football is a funny thing.”
Now the U.S. will play defending champion Brazil or host South Africa in Sunday’s final, which concludes a two-week tournament designed to prepare the organizers of next year’s World Cup.
Midfielder Michael Bradley, son of the U.S. coach, will miss the final. He received a red card for a late sliding tackle.
Still, American players had much to celebrate, given how slim the chances of such a U.S. victory seemed just a few days ago. Or any victory, for that matter. The 14th-ranked Americans were soundly defeated in their first two games in this event.
“It’s exciting, a great team effort. To beat an amazing team like Spain and make the final, it’s big,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. “We played as hard as we could and that’s what it took.
“Every guy contributed, so it’s a very good feeling.”
Spain, the European champion, had set an international record with 15 straight victories and had tied Brazil’s record unbeaten streak of 35 games from December 1993 to January 1996.
The United States had been 1-7-1 against No. 1 teams, beating Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup and tying Argentina last summer in an exhibition at Giants Stadium.
Altidore got the first goal when he outmuscled Joan Capdevila, his teammate on Spain’s Villarreal, to send an 18-yard shot in off the hand of goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Dempsey sealed the victory, scoring from 6 yards when he pounced on Landon Donovan’s cross, which had bounced off Gerard Pique and the foot of Sergio Ramos.
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 3-1 loss to world champion Italy, then was outclassed by South American champ Brazil in a 3-0 defeat. The Americans advanced over the Italians on the second tiebreaker – total goals – only by beating Egypt 3-0 on Sunday as Brazil defeated Italy by the same score.