June 24, 2009
By Michael Lewis
U.S. stuns top-ranked Spain, 2-0
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa -- The U.S. pulled off one of the biggest, if not the biggest, upset in its history, stunning top-ranked Spain in the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals Wednesday night.
|Jozy Altidore’s 27th-minute goal started the US on the road to their historic win over Spain.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Former Red Bulls striker Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey provided the offense to lift the United States to a 2-0 victory over Spain at Free State Stadium.
The U.S. will play the winner of Thursday's semifinal between Brazil and South Africa.
It was only the second time in nine games against No. 1 teams that the U.S. prevailed. The Americans defeated then-No. 1 Brazil, 1-0, in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 1998.
Spain entered the match with two giant streaks -- a 35-game unbeaten streak and a 15-game winning streak.
The last time Spain gave up two goals in a game was in a 3-2 win at Greece on Aug. 22, 2007, 29 games ago.
The Americans played a magnificent game as the defense bent, but never broke, and goalkeeper Tim Howard caught or knocked away everything kicked or headed his way.
The Americans did not come up cautiously, forcing the action in the opening minutes to keep Spain on its collective heels.
In fact, it was during a short span in which they took three shots at the Spanish net.
In the seventh minute, Charlie Davies, off a right-wing cross from Clint Dempsey, sent a bicycle kick in the penalty area wide left of the net.
A minute later, left fullback Carlos Bocanegra, starting his first game of the Cup, sent a nice cross into the area that Davies could only get a glancing head on as the ball bounded wide right.
And in the ninth minute, Dempsey launched a 24-yard attempt that traveled just wide left.
Spain got untracked in the 12th minute as Fernando Torres, trying to hail a left-wing cross, missed from four yards out on the right side.
Finally, in the 27th minute, the Americans' efforts paid off. Davies started the scoring sequence by shuffling a pass off to Dempsey, who sent the ball to Altidore. Altidore shrugged off Joan Capdevila, took three steps and fired a right-footed shot from the top of the penalty area. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas got a hand on the shot, but the ball bounded off the left post and into the net for a 1-0 U.S. lead.
It was the first goal Spain had surrendered in 451 minutes, since April 1 against Turkey.
It also was only the second U.S. goal ever scored against Spain, and the first since 1950.
Altidore was so elated that he took off his jersey during a celebration with teammates in front of American fans, drawing a yellow card from referee Jorge Larrionda (Argentina).
On the other end of the field in the first half, the Americans packed it in on defense as central defenders Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu cleared just about every dangerous cross and pass out of the American penalty area.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, back in the net after sitting out the Egypt match, made the save of the half in the 45th minute, kicking away Xavi’s shot at the right post.
Howard continued his heroics in the second half, knocking away David Villa's 15-yard blast with his left hand in the 48th minute.
Howard denied Villa again, this time on the left side, in the 52nd minute, catching the Spaniard's short bouncer.
The U.S. dodged a bullet in the 54th minute, when Xavi latched onto a Cesc Fabregas pass in the penalty area. Landon Donovan made contact with Xavi, who fell down in front of the U.S. net, but the referee said to play on.
Villa tried yet again, this time at the top left of the box, but Howard caught his low shot at the near post.
Howard continued to come up huge, punching away Sergio Ramos' blast in the 65th minute.
Benny Feilhaber, who replaced Davies in the 69th minute, dribbled through the left side of midfield and sent Donovan the ball on the right side. Donovan then passed to Dempsey on the left side of the six-yard box. Going away from the play and Ramos, Dempsey stopped his momentum and slipped the ball past Casillas for a 2-0 advantage in the 74th minute.
Not even a man advantage resulting from Larrionda’s soft 87th-minute red card to U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley could help the Spaniards recover, and the clean sheet held through the final whistle.