Wednesday, June 24, 2009

U.S. shocks Spain 2-0 in Confederations Cup semifinals

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – The United States ended Spain’s 15-game winning streak with a 1-0 victory on Wednesday, upsetting the European champion with goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to reach the final of the Confederations Cup for the first time.

The result was the Americans’ first victory in four attempts against the op-ranked Spanish, which also saw its record 35-match unbeaten streak ended.

The United States played an inspired first half, creating several chances. But it played nearly the second half in its own end, finishing with 10 men, and survived with a collective defensive effort highlighted by key performances by central defender Oguchi Onyewu and goalkeeper Tim Howard, and Dempsey’s goal against the run of play.

Onyewu constantly anticipated passes and diffused danger while Howard made several saves that looked like sure goals.

"We played as hard as we could. That's what it took," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We'll take a few hours to regroup. We're so excited about this."

The victory puts the United States into Sunday’s final against either host South Africa or a rematch against Brazil. Brazil beat the Americans 3-0 in the first round.

The United States took nearly four minutes before it gained any meaningful possession, but then started looking dangerous beginning with a bicycle attempt by Charlie Davies in the seventh minute that went wide left.

Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos troubled the U.S. defense, but Spain also found itself tested with a shot from distance by Landon Donovan in the 21st minute.

Altidore, who plays in Spain for Xerez, converted in the 27th minute, taking a ball from Dempsey at his feet, muscling off Joan Capdevilla at the top of the penalty area, turning and shooting. Diving Spain keeper Iker Casillas managed to get his right hand to deflect the ball, but it only slightly altered the path as it bounced in off the left post.

It was the first goal allowed by Spain in the tournament.

The United States continued to create chances in the first half, but appeared overwhelmed by Spain after the break. The Spanish created no fewer than five chances in the first 11 minutes of the second half, and the Americans looked ready to break.

The U.S. gave away the ball cheaply in the middle third, inviting repeated attacks. But it occasionally broke free and in the 74th, Donovan worked open down the right side, and his cross was slightly deflected by Gerard Pique before Ramos’ stopped it. Dempsey was positioned at the left post, turned and struck the ball under Casillas for the insurance.

The Americans played the final four minutes down a man after Michael Bradley was ejected for a physical foul, the third time in four games the U.S. had man red carded.

The victory probably comes as one of the biggest in U.S. soccer history, along with its victory over England in the 1950 World Cup, its win over Trinidad to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, and its victory over Brazil in the 1998 Gold Cup.

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