Confederations Cup action round-up – Spain brushed aside as USA storm into final

Semi-final

June 24, 2009

Spain 0-2 USA

Spain started with their full-strength side with Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila restored as the full-backs in an attacking 4-4-2. David Villa started up front, looking to out-score his partner Fernando Torres as they remain joint-top scorers in the competition so far. Tim Howard, who has made more saves than any other keeper in the tournament, returned to America’s starting line-up in place of Brad Guzan. Making no changes to the tactic that beat Egypt, USA started with a 4-4-2 focused on defending with numbers and then counter-attacking.

Charlie Davies, on three occasions, could have put the North American representatives ahead. Most notably his acrobatic attempt which worried Iker Casillas, but he could not do enough to get his shot on target. Even though the American forwards did not score, the start was enough to rock Spain and set the first-half up at a blistering pace. USA’s offside trap contained the Spanish attacks for the first 20 minutes. Fernando Torres and David Villa were both caught by the vigilant defence when they would have been free on goal. Indeed, the American tactics were just right; two solid banks of four, set out to work hard and give away little. When they had the ball they passed directly, short and fast, getting support to the strikers as quickly as possible.

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As a quarter of the game elapsed America got their breakthrough. Swift passing meant the ball was touched by five players in a matter of moments as the ball reached the forwards. Using his strength, Jozy Altidore swung his body around the ball, rolling the last defender in the process, and struck the ball at the now-isolated Casillas. The Spanish goalkeeper committed too early to the shot and was sent the wrong way by Altidore’s strike. Getting just one hand to the ball, Casillas could only watch it fall against his post and into the net for a surprise lead.

Perhaps America should have doubled their advantage as Spain searched for a reply. Landon Donovan produced another excellent cross, just as he has continued to do throughout the tournament, and found the head of Clint Dempsey. He could only connect at a stretch and wasted the opportunity when there where men in better positions to score. Spain continued to be stifled by the unrelenting opposition midfield; Xavi and Xabi Alonso played few of the passes that had helped decide many games in their favour so far in the competition. The American defence kept unfaltering concentration throughout the first period to deny Spain with more offside traps and determined defending at set-pieces. As such, the onus was placed on the Spanish forwards to produce something special to equalise. Torres nearly did so with minutes to spare as he rounded Jay DeMerit on the right-wing and forced his way into the box to test Howard at his near post. Once more, the USA defence cleared the ball and with it they took their stunning, yet completely deserved one goal margin in at half time.

The European champions came out in the second-half with both their unbeaten and winning streaks in jeopardy. USA gained the first corner, but just as quickly lost momentum as Spain came to life. Villa forced Howard into a good save and he was again tested by Xabi Alonso from the resulting corner, this time the ball whistling narrowly over the bar. Spain thought they should have had a penalty when Xavi was brought down under the challenge of Donovan, but the referee gave little attention to their appeals. The Spanish attacks were becoming more frequent and they came increasingly closer to equalising. Albert Riera, Xavi and Cesc Fàbregas started to emphasise their position as playmakers and the Spanish attacks continued to flow through them. USA responded by camping more men on the edge of their own area and Villa only took this as an invitation to shoot from range, just pulling his shot past Howard’s right post as the 60 minute mark passed. Fàbregas and Sergio Ramos tested the American goalkeeper on two occasions in quick succession as fatigue began to show in Bob Bradley’s men.

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The Coach deserves enormous credit for USA’s revival in the competition and his substitution led to his side’s second goal. Benny Feilhaber had replaced Charlie Davies, and Dempsey subsequently took up position alongside Altidore. It was these two individuals who were most heavily involved in the goal – Feilhaber skipped around two of the Spanish defence before releasing Donovan into the box. Caught in two minds, Donovan decided to pass the ball across the box, causing massive confusion for the defenders. The ball fell to Ramos who failed to realise who was behind him and decided to control the ball in the area rather than clear it. As the Spaniard looked up to play his pass, Dempsey slid the ball through his legs and beyond Casillas to put America 2-0 ahead.

Michael Bradley received America’s third red card in four games with just minutes of normal time remaining. Before the game he held the record for the largest distance covered by any player and America will certainly miss his work rate in the final. Spain failed to produce anything of note in the final period despite their enormous share of possession. America continued to produce the sort of defence that had kept the clean sheet so far: blocks, tackles, saves and clearances, all made in desperation to get to the final. Seconds later, they had done it. The European champions lost for the first time in three years with a performance that looked insecure from the off. Spain appeared unaccustomed to being behind in a match and had no plan for a comeback as they became the latest big name to fall from the competition. USA, on the other hand, appears to be reaching their peak just at the right time and their form will give Brazil or South Africa something to think about in preparation for the final on Sunday.


2009 FIFA Confederations Cup fixtures & results

Group A

South Africa 0-0 Iraq – June 14, 2009 – Johannesburg

Spain 5-0 New Zealand – June 14, 2009 – Rustenburg

Spain 1-0 Iraq – June 17, 2009 – Bloemfontein

South Africa 2-0 New Zealand – June 17, 2009 – Rustenburg

New Zealand 0-0 Iraq – June 20, 2009 – Johannesburg

South Africa 0-2 Spain – June 20, 2009 – Bloemfontein

Standings after three games – Spain 9, South Africa 4, Iraq 2, New Zealand 1

Group B

Brazil 4-3 Egypt – June 15, 2009 -Bloemfontein

Italy 3-1 USA – June 15, 2009 – Pretoria

USA 0-3 Brazil– June 18, 2009 – Pretoria

Italy 0-1 Egypt – June 18, 2009 – Johannesburg

Italy 0-3 Brazil – June 21, 2009 – Pretoria

Egypt 0-3 USA – June 21, 2009 – Rustenburg

Standings after three games – Brazil 9, USA 3, Italy 3, Egypt 3

Semi-finals

Spain 0-2 USA – June 24, 2009 – Bloemfontein

Brazil vs. South Africa – June 25, 2009 -Johannesburg

Third place play-off

Spain vs. Semi-final 2 runner-up – June 28, 2009 – Rustenburg

Final

USA vs. Semi-final 2 winner – June 28, 2009 – Johannesburg


Italy at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup

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