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"In any language, the whole world is united by a ball." --- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries

Sunday, June 28, 2009

2009 Confederations Cup Final from Ellis Park, Johannesburg: Brasil 3 x USA 2

For someone who has watched many games over the years, this one had a special feeling. Especially when I remember the struggle for American soccer to be taken seriously abroad. At home, this is the desert of world football. Even after today's valiant display, the US team will vanish from the consciousness of the mainstream sports media in a New York minute.

The US team faces rare challenges within its own country. Frequently, the team and the sport are ridiculed in the press. In many cases, when the team plays a "home" game, it is treated as the visiting team.

SOCCER: JUN 28 Confederations Cup Final - USA v Brazil
Kaka': Simply the best.

The footballing world witnessed something for the ages tonight at Ellis Park. On a rugby union pitch with wailing horns and passionate fans hungry for what will arrive in greater detail in the next South African winter.

They saw an American team that played with conviction, heart, and skill against a team that was on the ropes, but found a way to deliver the knock-out punch after 86 minutes. This was not the usual Brazilian side of beauty and dazzling creativity. "Jogo Bonito" was a distant thought. Samba soccer was left back on the beaches of Rio. Tonight was about sheer force of will: 31 shots on goal. Tide after tide of attacks, along with endless crosses into the box that would have finished most teams much sooner. But the Yanks, led by Tim Howard in goal, held on until near the death.

SOCCER: JUN 28 Confederations Cup Final - USA v Brazil
The global profiles of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have risen.

The early goal by Clint Dempsey set the stage. Several minutes later, on a flawless counter-attack orchestrated by Landon Donovan and Charlie Davies, Brasil was facing more than a two goal deficit. They were facing a team that did not fear their reputations, history, or collective talent. Donovan's finish on the goal had what the Italians call, "freddezza." Coolness. Quality. Nerves of steel in front of the box to beat the keeper, in this case, the aptly named, Julio Cesar.

SOCCER: JUN 28 Confederations Cup Final - USA v Brazil
Donovan expertly finished a textbook counter-attack for the second American goal.

One can only imagine the discussions in the Brazilian dressing room at half-time. Their fiery coach, Carlos Dunga, no doubt lit a fire under the smoldering threat that faced him. A loss to the gringos. The ridicule from a nation of millions of futebol-loving fanatics. The amazement of the rest of the world.

SOCCER: JUN 28 Confederations Cup Final - USA v Brazil
Luis Fabiano was the leading scorer at the Confederations Cup. Tim Howard
was named the Best Keeper.

But one sensed that the cream would rise. The first sign came in the form of Luis Fabiano's goal just after the half-time break. Back to the goal, marked tightly by Jay DeMerit, one of the relavations of this American side, he spun and shot through his legs and beat Howard to the corner. Then the apparent goal by Kaka' that was not awarded. The tide was turning, and Luis Fabiano, also known as "O Fabuloso," equalized a few minutes later.

SOCCER: JUN 28 Confederations Cup Final - USA v Brazil
Jay DeMerit, a native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, showed true grit.

Lucio's emphatic header near the death was a cruel blow to the Americans. Brasil merited this win, but their shouts of joy may have been disguised as collective sighs of relief. They were pushed to the limits to win for the 14th time against Team USA, and to raise the Confederations Cup for the third time. We can also argue that the American team still needs room to grow. When you have one of the best teams in the world down 0 x 2 at the half, you have to find a way to close the game. Both on and off the pitch. But this game was part of the learning curve for US Soccer.

When I saw Clint Dempsey weeping at the end, it was reflective of how far the US program has come. Along with how far it still needs to proceed. The ball is round, and the game lasts 90 minutes. We will see the promised land. Tonight was an important step up the mountain.

SOCCER: JUN 28 Confederations Cup Final - USA v Brazil
Second place but not first loser.

Congratulations to the Selecao of Brasil and Mister Dunga. They showed us what great teams do: Find a way to win.

Congratulations to Mister Bob Bradley and his US Team.

"Hold your heads up, hold your heads up... hold your heads up."

Landon Donovan summed up the evening quite well:
"We don't want respect, we want to win."
Brazil Wins Confederations Cup
A scene from a sports bar in Los Angeles during the game.

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