BRENT LATHAM - Friday, June 26, 2009
That's how long until the final in Johannesburg, and it's also about how long has past since the stunning US victory on that cold night in Bloemfontein that will go down in soccer history. Now the US is turning to Brazil, who eeked out a 1-0 victory over hosts South Africa last night to reach their second straight Confederations Cup final.
Here are some more thoughts on the Spian match, and a look ahead to Sunday.
Dissecting the Spain Victory
The defense was much hailed in the victory over Spain, and rightfully so. The back four of Boca, DeMerit, Gooch, and Spector were virtually impenetrable. But the uncanny thing all night was how those four guys, plus Ricardo Clark, managed to show up at the last possible moment to tackle the ball away just about every single time a Spanish player was preparing to shoot on goal. I counted at least half a dozen such plays when I watched the replay (the South African Broadcasting Corp shows the games non-stop).
As much deserved credit as the defense is getting, I want to address the point of view I've been reading and hearing all around that the US bunkered down. In my opinion, it's absurd. Spain had about 55% of the possession but that's typical for the best team in the world. The US was not sitting back the whole game, they repeatedly attacked with numbers, they just did so rationally. To accuse the US of bunkering against Spain takes away the credit they are due for battling the world's number one team straight up- and winning.
Finally, I'm getting some push back on my recent compliments of coach Bob Bradley. It's true that one or two games change little - and that's just the point. I was one who originally thought Bradley should never have been named coach. Now, I see his whole body of work and at least understand why he is still coach. Of course there are still better candidates, but Bradley seems possibly to be growing into the role.
For evidence, witness the entry of Benny Feilhaber Wednesday night. Bradley sent on Feilhaber on the left immediately after the Spanish introduced Santi Cazorla on the right wing. It was a great move that kept Cazorla honest, and in the end Cazorla's indifference to marking led to Feilhaber's brilliant run that set up the US' second goal. Pretty good tactical stuff there from a coach that probably wouldn't have done that last year at this time.
Brazil, what can you say? If the US can knock off Spain, they can get Brazil too. There's a chance for a surprise after Brazil manhandled the US in the first round. The Selecao managed only a 1-0 win over South Africa Thursday on a late Dani Alves free kick, and are looking a bit tired after there electric play in the first round.
The US camp on the other hand has never been higher. The nothing-to-lose attitude remains, and on spirit alone, the US would be the favorites on Sunday. But the players on the field will have a say as well. Without Michael Bradley, the US will need some other midfielder - I'm guessing Sacha Kljestan - or maybe Feilhaber - to step up his game. Only if the same eleven motivated players take the field on Sunday does the US have a hope of lifting its first ever FIFA trophy at Ellis Park. That has a nice ring to it.