Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, once remarked, "Football, bloody hell." US Men's National Team manager Bob Bradley can echo that sentiment today following his team's shocking 2-0 victory over the world's number one ranked team, Spain, in South Africa.
Jozy Altidore put the United States up one goal to nil in the 25th minute following a nice counterattack. Altidore shielded and controlled the football magnificiently and fired his shot off the outstretched hand of Spanish keeper Iker Casillas and the left post and into the back of the net. The 19 year-old's goal was truly a shock to the system of a Spanish side that had moved through the competition with the ease of an overweight man eating a whopper. It was the first goal that La Roja conceded of the Confederations Cup, but it would not be the last.
Clint Dempsey added his second goal in as many matches in the 71st minute by finishing off a brilliant move started by Landon Donovan. Both Dempsey and Donovan have been criticised at times for their lack of focus and failing to live up to their potential, and here they were silencing their critics once again. Donovan's cross was deflected and then recovered by Sergio Ramos of Spain, whose first touch indicated that he had no idea that Dempsey was poised right behind him to take advantage of any oversight. Dempsey recovered possession from Ramos and fired the ball into the back of the net putting the USA up two goals.
Many around the world were left completely dumbfounded by that scoreline. It is not surprising when you compare the two teams and who in their starting XI play their club football with.
1. Iker Casillas - Real Madrid
2. Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid
3. Gerard Pique - Barcelona
4. Carles Puyol - Barcelona
5. Juan Capdevila - Villareal
6. Xavi Hernandez - Barcelona
7. Xabi Alonso - Liverpool
8. Cesc Fabregas - Arsenal
9. Albert Riera - Liverpool
10. David Villa - Valencia
11. Fernando Torres - Liverpool
1. Tim Howard - Everton
2. Carlos Bocanegra - Fulham
3. Oguchi Onyewu - Standard Liege
4. Jay DeMerit - Watford
5. Jonathan Spector - West Ham
6. Landon Donovan - LA Galaxy
7. Clint Dempsey - Fulham
8. Michael Bradley - Heerenveen
9. Ricardo Clark - Houston Dynamo
10. Jozy Altidore - Villareal
11. Charlie Davies - Hammarby (of Sweden)
The gulf in class between the two teams in terms of where the players ply their trade on the club level is unquestionable. Every player in Spain's starting eleven played in the UEFA Champions League and four of its players were involved at the semifinal stage, and three of their number won it. None of the players for the United States played on clubs that even qualified for Europe's top club tournament.
It was with total effort and grit that the United States won this match. Spain came out to play and looked certain to score numerous times only to be denied by either last ditch defending or spectacular saves from Tim Howard. As a Manchester United supporter, it does my heart a powerful load of good to see him continue to succeed on a personal level after he left. The back four did a great job in deflecting and blocking shots continually frustrating the forwards of Spain. La Roja seemed angered by the USA even attempting a resistance against them. Teams like New Zealand, Iraq, and South Africa are so far removed from the quality of Spain that they had very little chance of success in sniffing a victory in the group stages. The United States was the first team to make Spain work and it showed.
While this victory will not gain the same publicity as the USA's Miracle on Ice, when the US Men's Hockey Team defeated the USSR in the height of Cold War tensions in 1980, the two games bear many similarities to each other. While the USA is no longer involved in a Cold War, and generally have decent relations with Spain, the United States finds itself in troubling times, domestic and foreign. The economy is stagnating and we are at war. Both of these things were also true in 1980. The American people, like they did in 1980, need something about which they could be proud. Today's victory over Spain was just as unexpected against just as tough of an opponent as the USSR was in hockey. Ultimately few outside the crazy football (soccer) fans of the United States will care about this win, but honestly, who cares?
Personally for me, this gives me another reason to support the United States in a more serious manner. My national team of choice is the Oranje of the Netherlands because of my family heritage and because I love the way they play football. More plucky and fascinating victories like this by the United States will leave many like myself pumping their fists and sliding on the carpet in front of their television sets come the World Cup in 2010.
The magnitude of this accomplishment for the USA is immeasureable. As a football fan, one lives for days like these; to see the mighty toppled, the courageous rewarded, and the true wonder of the sport recaptured once again. Whatever happens in the final versus either South Africa or Brasil, the United States have made a point in this tournament that surely will be heard 'round the world. "Football, bloody hell."
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