With the Azzurri now out of the tournament embarrassingly after defeats against Egypt and Brazil in the group stages, all the signs pointed towards a Brazil-Spain final. But as the old saying goes ‘football is funny old game.’
Nobody predicted that the Americans could possibly pull off another upset to oust the favourites but an impressive showing in Bloemfontein meant most neutrals backed the stars and stripes. The underdogs took the lead when a poor defensive error by left-back Joan Capdevilla handed Jozy Altidore a chance to score, which he duly did. Spain tried to find the equaliser but were unable to create many chances. In the second half, La Furia Roja came back and threw all they had into the game as they sought to find the leveller, but outstanding saves from Tim Howard and a number of blocks from the US defence restrained the Spaniards. And another poor error, this time by Sergio Ramos, allowed the impressive Clint Dempsey to grab a second for the US and guide the Americans to their first ever final in a FIFA tournament.
Brazil got off to a great start in the other semi-final match in Johannesburg and looked certain to win the game at a canter, but as the clock ticked on Joel Santana’s Bafana Bafana grew in confidence and settled into the match. The hosts held Brazil at bay for much of the game with an excellent defensive display and at the other end forced Julio Cesar into numerous superb saves. The Selecao searched in vain for the breakthrough and with only three minutes of normal time remaining the match appeared to be heading towards two periods of extra-time. However, it took an inspired substitution from Dunga to change the game. Barcelona’s Dani Alves, who had entered the field of play with just 10 minutes remaining, wrapped his foot around an inch-perfect free kick to send Brazil to the final and break the hosts’ hopes of a final on home soil.
Third Place Play-off
Spain demonstrated their annoyance at having to stay behind for this game, looking uninterested in getting a third place finish. Bafana Bafana produced a number chances and although the Spanish tried to retaliate, the first half was, by in large, quite dull. In the second half, the Europeans appeared much more motivated but perhaps surprisingly, a great cross allowed substitute Katlego Mphela to smash home a goal and give his side the lead. Another surprising loss was on the cards for Spain and true to their nickname, the raging fury began to rage. They surged forward looking for an equaliser and Dani Guiza finally managed it in the 87th minute before grabbing a second a moment later to restore Spain’s pride. However, Mphela found the leveller from a stunning last minute free-kick to force the match into extra-time.
Spain were desperate to see their efforts in the match rewarded as they poured forward and should have been awarded a penalty when a Spanish cross appeared to be cleared by the hand of Benson Mhlongo. Nonetheless, a great free-kick from Xabi Alonso early in the second period secured the win and third place, a somewhat small consolation prize for the Spanish having entered the tournament as favourites for the title.
The final match of the Confederations Cup pitted the almighty Brazil against a side who had very nearly crashed out in the group stage. The USA began the game with every intention of running faster, scoring quicker and stifling the numerous Brazilian talents on the pitch. And their game plan worked as they took an early lead through Clint Dempsey to leave the stadium in awe of their burgeoning talent and workrate. Brazil tried to respond but a horrendously unorganised defensive line and a team in total disarray allowed the USA to increase their lead to two goals when Landon Donovan fired home after a superb counter-attack to beat the Brazilians at their own game.
Dunga, must have cracked the whip at half-time as a newly organised, hard-working and vivacious team remerged after the break. Milan target Luis Fabiano, slipped one past the remarkable Howard almost immediately. The Selecao had now found their form and continued to test the Americans. The USA defence was strong and Howard was forced to make several impressive saves worthy of a man-of-the-match award but there was no stopping the Brazilians as Kaka headed home what should have been the second. The ball bounced off the crossbar and appeared to have crossed the line but the incident was missed by the officials and the US remained a goal in front. Kaka’s efforts were finally rewarded when his build-up play allowed Fabiano to score the second and Lucio headed home the winner from Elano’s corner to win the cup for Brazil for a third time.
This may have not been the greatest Brazilian team, nor a side that left fans breathless, but the eternal favourites lifted the Confederations Cup once again, rather predictably. Their thrilling form in the second half against the USA and real team effort meant they truly deserved the honour. But if Marcello Lippi’s superstitions are to be believed, then perhaps this victory will stop them from winning their sixth World Cup next year.
2009 FIFA Confederations Cup fixtures & results
Spain 0-2 USA – June 24, 2009 – Bloemfontein
Brazil 1-0 South Africa – June 25, 2009 -Johannesburg
Third place play-off
Spain 3-2 South Africa – June 28, 2009 – Rustenburg
USA 2-3 Brazil – June 28, 2009 – Johannesburg