Confederations Cup action round-up – USA storm through as Azzurri sink

Italy, Iraq and Egypt all missed opportunities to move in to the last four in the final group matches, as Brazil and Spain once again won comfortably, but this weekend will forever be remembered for America’s surprising exploits. Overcoming all odds, USA stormed to a three-goal win and, with Italy’s defeat, progressed into a seemingly implausible semi-final with Spain.

Group B

June 21, 2009

Italy 0-3 Brazil

Andrea Dossena, Luca Toni and Riccardo Montolivo made their first starts of the Confederations Cup as Italy once more stuck to 4-3-3, with Toni joined by Vincenzo Iaquinta and Mauro Camoranesi as the forward three for the Azzurri. Juan replaced Miranda in an otherwise unchanged Brazil team with Luis Fabiano supported most directly by Robinho and Kaka.

Right from the beginning of the match, Italy looked weak in defence. Vulnerable and uncertain, Italy’s resistance seemed delicate and on the 37th minute the floodgates opened. Maicon was unintentionally the supplier as his shot found Luis Fabiano in the box. He, in turn, controlled the ball away from Fabio Cannavaro, who had kept him onside in the first place, and stroked the ball across Gianluigi Buffon into the Italian goal. Brazil was now attacking at full force and six minutes later their lead was doubled. Kaka overlapped Robinho on his outside as Brazil approached the box, fed the ball back into the path of the Manchester City star who dummied his shot to allow Luis Fabiano to chip the ball over Buffon.

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Once again, a devastating Brazil counter-attack unlocked the static Azzurri backline as the Sambas threatened to run riot. Kaka played Robinho through down the left-wing as the Italian defence pushed right up to the half-way line except, crucially, for Dossena. As Robinho sprinted away, quickly followed by Luis Fabiano in the centre, Dossena desperately tried to get back into position and, as the cross seemed destined for Luis Fabiano, Dossena steered the ball into his own goal.

Despite the fact that Italy had been thrashed, events elsewhere meant that one goal in the second half would have sent them through. Bar a couple of half chances for Guiseppe Rossi, who had replaced Iaquinta in the first half, Azzurri failed to produce anything of real note. Italy crashed out of the competition and left Egypt and USA to battle it out for second place. Brazil, on the other hand, flew in to the semi-finals with yet another three-goal display and proved their credentials as a worthy opponent to Spain for the competition.


USA 3-0 Egypt

America went into the game knowing only a six goal swing in their favour could see them progress. With nothing to lose they switched to a 4-4-2, having previously played with a lone striker. Charlie Davies started alongside Jozy Altidore at the front of the American line-up while Ricardo Clark returned from suspension to play in midfield. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan completed the attacking formation from either wing. Egypt opted for a midfield diamond formation with Mohamed Aboutrika in behind the front two, although they were left without Mohamed Zidan and clearly lacked his prowess up-front.

USA started on top and converted their pressure into a lead just 20 minutes in. Altidore’s cross was twice fumbled by Pharaoh’s stopper Essam El Hadary as he collided with his teammates and gave Davies the chance to put America ahead. Forcing the ball back towards the Egypt goal, Davies’ goal was reward for his determination and persistence in the box. Taking the lead into half-time, USA’s advantage was only a lifeline. However, with the Italy result confirmed at 3-0 at the break, America knew that two goals could see them through. Their motivation was set but was undoubtedly assisted by an Egypt performance far-distant from their win over the Azzurri.

Just 15 minutes into the second half and America was approaching their target. Michael Bradley stormed through Egypt’s midfield and left his side with men to spare as they took on the Pharaoh defence. He played Donovan the first pass before receiving the second to slot past El Hadary and the defenders, who had only served to block his view. There was not a single American effort on goal before they scored again. Dempsey’s strength gained him an extra yard in the box and granted him the space he needed to head the ball past El Hadary for three. The goal had sent USA through as long as results stayed the same. One Egypt reply would see them take the second spot instead of America as both sides became increasingly desperate in both defence and attack.

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Egypt got the opening they needed on the stroke of ninety minutes. The ball was lifted into the box for the strike-force to attack along with any Egyptian who could offer support. Indeed, it was centre-half Wael Gomaa who rose highest, well above those who surrounded him, only to head the ball over the bar to waste Egypt’s golden opportunity. With that spurned, America produced one of the most unlikely results in international football’s recent history. They had overcome all of the factors against them to knock the world champions, along with the African champions, out of the Confederations Cup and secure their tie with Spain for a place in the final.


Group A

June 20, 2009

Spain 2-0 South Africa

Spain started with Pepe Reina and Sergio Busquets as they entered the game knowing only a 3-0 South Africa win could deprive them of top-spot in Group A. Albert Riera returned to the starting XI as Spain’s tactics remained unchanged. Bernard Parker took the lead as South Africa’s lone striker in a 4-5-1 system which saw Benson Mhlongo take the place of Thembinkosi Fanteni. Their style of football continued with all its flair as South Africa appeared more than willing to take the game to Spain – just as they had to do in order to take first place.

Riera’s long-range effort was the real highlight of a half dominated by Spain. Laying the ball to one side, Xavi moved well away as Riera put his left foot behind the ball from all of 35 yards. Itumeleng Khune saved well on that occasion and moments later to deny Torres when one-on-one with the South African goalkeeper. The hosts did not go without their opportunities but Parker and Teko Modise struck wild and tame efforts respectively to ensure the game remained goalless at half-time.

The second period exploded into life with a penalty decision just minutes in. Cesc Fabregas was played into the area by David Villa and was brought down by Aaron Mokoena’s tackle as he tried to skip past the South Africa Captain. Villa stepped up as the pick of the Spanish penalty takers but his shot was brilliantly saved by Khune low and to his left. However, it took Villa just one minute to atone for his miss as he controlled with his chest and placed his left foot volley past Khune for the opening goal.

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Safe in their position at the top of the group, Spain made substitutions allowing youngsters Fernando Llorente and Pablo Hernandez to gain vital experience. Llorente announced himself perfectly 12 minutes later with a goal to seal the result for the European champions. A rehearsed set-piece saw Fabregas free to shoot in the box but his scuffed shot was tamed well by Llorente and he was then able to slide the ball home. South Africa’s main chance was coolly taken by Katlego Mashego but he was well offside by the time the ball was played and Bafana Bafana was forced to rely on the other result in the group to seal their fate.


Iraq 0-0 New Zealand

Iraq was given it’s first opportunity of the tournament to attack from the off. Younis Mahmoud and Emad Mohammed started up-front as Iraq looked ready to win big against the Kiwis. New Zealand, free from the pressure of progression, played a less constrained game despite retaining the same 4-4-2 approach that had seen two losses so far. Jeremy Brockie returned to start for the side as they looked for their first tournament goal. The most obvious opportunity of the half fell Iraq’s way when Mahmoud sprinted his way between the New Zealand defence for a shot on target, but Glen Moss was equal to it in goal for New Zealand and saved bravely at Mahmoud’s feet. The chance seemed to spark the All Whites into action but the team’s fine play was unmatched in front of goal. Chris Killen and strike-partner Shane Smeltz were both found short of finishing as the sides went in level when really New Zealand should have been ahead.

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Iraq failed, just as they had done against Spain and South Africa, to push their opponent’s defences to any extent. After the break, the story was just the same. Moss was once again in fine form on a number of occasions but was never really troubled and, in fact again, it could have been New Zealand who went ahead. Hard work was gifting New Zealand chances as Iraq tried to push on only for Killen to again slice wide as the Kiwis failed to pick up the goal that had eluded them thus far. Glen Moss then stopped Iraq on two more occasions, first from Karrar Jassim with his head and then pushing Salih Sadir’s shot around the post to keep his clean sheet. New Zealand celebrated like tournament winners as they savoured their first ever Confederations Cup point. Iraq had disappointed and ultimately proved that their game is far stronger when in defence. The draw sends South Africa through to the semi-final where they will face Brazil in what will be an exciting encounter in Johannesburg.

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 vs. USA – June 24, 2009 – Bloemfontein

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

Third place play-off

Semi-final 1 runner-up vs. Semi-final 2 runner-up – June 28, 2009 – Rustenburg

Final

Semi-final 1 winner vs. Semi-final 2 winner – June 28, 2009 – Johannesburg


Italy at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup

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