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Perhaps the biggest shock of all saw Bob Bradley's United States arrive in the 2009 semi-finals supposedly without a hope against the reigning European and soon-to-be world champions Spain, but they stunned Vicente Del Bosque's side with a 2-0 victory.
La Roja had cruised through their group, winning their three matches without conceding a goal. Additionally, they were in the midst of a world-record 15 straight victories, as well as a 35-match unbeaten run. Buoyed by their success at the previous summer's European championships in Austria/Switzerland, they quite simply looked unbeatable.
Certainly, Bradley's side weren't meant to give them any trouble. That the U.S. had even reached the semi-final was nothing short of miraculous, such was how they had got there.
A poor performance saw them lose 3-1 to world champions Italy in their opening match, which was followed by a 3-0 hiding from Brazil in their second match, where they were comprehensively outplayed and outclassed. Nonetheless, a 3-0 decimation of Egypt, matched by Italy's collapse against Brazil by a similar scoreline in the final group matches, saw USA advance ahead of the Azzurri on goals scored.
The term "skin of their teeth" hardly does it justice.
And having barely made the knockout stages, the U.S. were resilient, dynamic and downright frustrating opponents for the Spanish. With tiki-taka in its infancy, Spain registered 56% of possession and 29 shots (eight on target) but were unable to deter a committed United States.
A Charlie Davies bicycle kick flashed wide early on, signalling their intentions, while Clint Dempsey also went close. In the 27th minute, however, they claimed the lead.
19-year-old striker Jozy Altidore, then on the books of Villarreal in Spain, brushed past his club colleague Joan Capdevila before striking past Iker Casillas to open the scoring in the 27th minute—only the third goal conceded by Spain in their last 17 matches.
Spain increased the tempo and asked questions of the U.S. defence, but Tim Howard and his back line stood firm. Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos both missed chances, while Fabregas came close twice with long-range efforts.
Pinned back for much of the second period, the U.S. made the most of their one and only attacking surge and scored their second goal in the 74th minute: Landon Donovan squared from the right side of the penalty area to Clint Dempsey, who fired into the net.
A late red card for Michael Bradley—easily attributed to over-eagerness at the end of a tenacious display—was the only sour note for the Americans on an excellent night. They would go on to lose 3-2 in the final to Brazil, having taken a 2-0 lead.
For Spain, "this is an accident, a little step backward," exclaimed Vicente Del Bosque at the time, reported by BBC Sport. He wasn't wrong.