US upsets Spain to reach Confederations Cup final
AP Sports Writer
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – The United States ended Spain’s record winning streak with a 2-0 upset victory Wednesday that gave it an unlikely but deserved place in the Confederations Cup final.
Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey exposed a sluggish Spanish defense and Tim Howard made several quality saves to stop Spain’s record run at 15 wins and put the Americans into their first FIFA men’s final at any level.
Altidore took a deflected pass from Dempsey in the 27th minute, turned Joan Capdevila and beat Iker Casillas with a shot that bounced off the goalkeeper’s hand and into the net.
Spain was caught on the break when Landon Donovan crossed into the goalmouth where two defenders misplayed the ball before Dempsey slotted it home in the 74th.
“We knew we had to pick and choose our moments to go forward,” Dempsey said. “We’re happy with the result and we know we’re going to have our work cut out to get anything out of the final.”
The Americans, who will face either Brazil or host South Africa in Sunday’s final, survived despite playing the final minutes without Michael Bradley, who was sent off in the 87th for a lunging tackle.
Spain hadn’t been beaten since a loss to Romania in November 2006.
“To beat an amazing team like Spain and make the final. It’s big,” United States coach Bob Bradley said. “We played as hard as we could and that’s what it took.”
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque had warned his players not to be complacent, yet his team defense was tottering for much of the game.
“Losing is never good,” Del Bosque said. “We’re not used to losing.”
The Americans knew all about it after losses to Brazil and Italy in their first two games. The team only squeezed into the semifinals because it scored more goals than a sagging Italy.
“I can’t explain it any more than you can,” Howard said. “Sports is funny sometimes, but when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.”
Against Spain’s finest from Barcelona, Real Madrid and the Premier League, the United States had heart, grit and a big dose of luck. The Americans were outshot 29-9, but they still had enough for their biggest result since reaching the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Altidore’s goal was the first time in the tournament that Spain conceded a goal. It was also the first time in 451 minutes the European champions conceded a goal since Turkey’s Semih Senturk scored on April 1.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, Spain had a real struggle on its hands.
Against the 14th-ranked Americans, Spain came into the game showing little to nothing of the Red Fury that gave it the team its nickname. All the fire and determination came from a U.S. team that was never intimidated by Spain’s record winning streak.
Donovan demonstrated the eagerness with two fouls in the opening five minutes, earning him a quick yellow card.
Adding flair beyond stamina, Charlie Davies executed a near perfect bicycle kick in the seventh minute which only just went wide.
Often though, Spain’s famed midfield did show its own brilliance. But unlike so often, something always went wrong at the last station, either because of an imprecise pass, a crushing tackle or a block from Oguchi Onyewu or his fellow defenders.
“We lacked a little of our usual touch,” Del Bosque said. “We played a very difficult rival who took us head on.”
Both David Villa and Fernando Torres, the tournament’s top scorers, came close to adding a fourth goal to their tally in the first half. But when the United States defense finally failed, as it did it in the 44th minute on another fluent move, Howard could be counted on to make a tough stop on a shot from Torres.
The United States goalkeeper pulled off a great one-handed save from an angled shot from Villa in the 48th minute to keep his team ahead.
The attacks, though, just kept coming and it seemed a matter of time before the underdogs would finally crumble. The Americans never did.
In the 54th, Spain wanted a penalty when Xavi Hernandez was run into the ground by Donovan as he was chasing a pass from Cesc Fabregas. Howard then deflected a fierce shot from Sergio Ramos onto the post and out in the 65th minute, and the Americans kept blocking everything which came its way.
United States: Tim Howard, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey (Jonathan Bornstein, 88), Landon Donovan, Charlie Davies (Benny Feilhaber, 69), Jozy Altidore (Conor Casey, 83).
Spain: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera (Juanma Mata, 78), Cesc Fabregas (Santi Cazorla, 68), Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Fernando Torres.