Preamble: Today's Confederations Cup final features a most unlikely rematch. After the US faced Brazil for the first time last week, it seemed like they had decided to start their summer vacation a little early.
Their surprising turnaround has been well-documented, so I won't beat a dead horse, save to say that this is a final that nobody expected.
Instead, I'd like to say that if you missed the earlier match between Spain and South Africa, you missed a thriller. Bafana Bafana looked like they had wrapped up the win and sealed a second consecutive loss for the Spaniards.
Enter Daniel Guiza.
He found the back of the net in the 88th and 89th minutes to seal the win for Spain.
Katlego Mphela scored on a rocket of a free kick in stoppage time to send the match to extra time.
Then it was Xabi Alonso's turn to create some magic, scoring on another excellent free kick in the 107th minute, providing a great ending to what will likely go down as the most exciting match of this year's tournament.
Five goals after the 73rd minute, stoppage time heroics...How could the final possibly provide an adequate encore?
That remains to be seen. Will Brazil rebound from an unsatisfactory performance against South Africa in the semifinals? Will the US upset their second top-five opponent in a row?
Prediction: Even though the US has shown considerable improvement over their last couple of matches, Brazil is just too good. This will be a close match, but Brazil should triumph 2-1.
Special Bonus Prediction: I'm putting money on the US receiving a dubious red card sometime around the 50th minute.
Team USA! USA! USA!
Howard, Onyewu, Demerit, Spector, Bocanegra, Clark, Dempsey, Feilhaber, Donovan, Davies, Altidore
Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Miranda, Andre Santos, Ramires, Lougainis, Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo, Kaka, Luis Fabiano, Robinho
Martin Hansson, from Sweden. I don't think he's handed out any red cards to the US in his career, that's a nice sign. You might remember him as the official who rewarded a Steven Gerrard foul against Atletico Madrid by giving a penalty kick...to Liverpool.
Prematch banter: My favorite part of the past few days has been Alexi Lalas castigating Jozy Altidore for taking off his shirt after scoring the winner against Spain...Gee, Alexi, maybe if you'd ever done anything of note at a FIFA tournament, you'd understand his elation.
Forgive me if I seem cynical during today's report. I'm still upset that Brazil's first goal in the last match came off a foul that was never actually committed.
The highlight of today's pre-game show has been Rece Davis repeatedly referring to Brazil as the "Samba Kings" in an effort to mask the fact that he'd rather be anywhere but here. He's a basketball guy, why couldn't we get Derek Rae?
Alexi Lalas keeps insisting that Danny Guiza's 89th minute goal wasn't a goal, but a cross. I'll have to double-check the rulebook on this one, but I'm pretty sure that if the ball crosses the line and ends up in the back of the net, it's a goal.
1 min: I may have thrown a fake name into the Brazil squad. No, I'm not bitter. Oh, Brazil takes the kick.
3 min: This is already a different US team than the one that we saw in the group match between these two. This team is playing football instead of sitting around, weaving friendship bracelets out of grass clippings. Dempsey takes the USA's first shot of the match, which is both weak and wide.
5 min: The two teams are sitting back and probing right now. Brazil pushes forward down the wings, but DeMerit heads the cross clear for a corner kick. Nice alliteration.
6 min: Frantic defending for the US. Brazil has whipped in a bunch of crosses in the last half minute, but the US defense isn't budging. Robinho steps up to take another corner.
7 min: Robinho's corner finds Kaka on the near post, but he heads wide. Tim Howard gives Jozy Altidore an earful for his poor marking.
9 min: A wild shot from distance amounts to nothing for Brazil. Howard gives his defense a thumbs-up, and the US earns a free kick off the goal kick. Quick restart.
10 min: GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!! What a difference a week makes! Jonathan Spector whips a beautiful ball into the box, and it finds the foot of Clint Dempsey. He pushes it past Julio Cesar and the US leads, 1-0. It's a dream start for the US!
13 min: Replays show that Julio Cesar was caught wrong-footed on that one. He must have expected Dempsey to try and find the near post. Meanwhile, Robinho breaks down the left wing and tries to poke a shot past Howard, but Timmy deflects it out for a corner at full stretch.
14 min: Brazil is caught napping off the corner as Donovan finds a streaking Charlie Davies at midfield. Davies is fast, but the Brazilians are faster and concede a corner instead of a goal. Bocanegra heads a shot off a defender, corner No. 2 and almost goal No. 2.
16 min: Kaka takes a weak shot that hits a defender in the groin and Brazil appeals for a handball. Sorry gents, Larrionda isn't on the pitch for this match.
18 min: Altidore is bundled over at the spot where Spector's assist came from. Donovan will take this one, but Lucio breaks it up.
19 min: And Hansson has gone to his pocket for a souvenir. Bocanegra gets a yellow card for wrapping up Kaka. Poor technique there, he's got to use his legs if he wants to drag him down.
21 min: For the first time in this tournament, Brazil is playing from behind. They seem a little panicked at the moment, taking quick restarts and trying to force shots through people. Unless they've learned how to quantum tunnel, the Brazilians will need to be a bit more patient. Lots of football left in this one.
22 min: Feilhaber gets burned by Kaka once, but tracks back to make a nice tackle. That really should have been a red card. Sarcasm doesn't really translate well to print, does it?
25 min: A series of deflections brings the ball to Robinho's feet in a dangerous position by Tim Howard's post, but Spector is there to deflect the shot. Felipe Melo is booked for a hard challenge on Onyewu.
26 min: Dempsey goes down thanks to a textbook body slam, and Brazil breaks once again. Maicon tries to sneak a shot past Howard at an impossible angle, and earns a corner for his troubles.
28 min: GOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!! A quick counter attack off the Brazil corner between Donovan and Davies. Davies plays a beautiful centering pass to Donovan, who cuts it back to turn his defender, and fires a left-footed shot past Julio Cesar. 2-0 to the US, and Brazil has to be stunned.
30 min: Nearly a third for the US as they continue to go for the kill. This is definitely not what we're used to seeing from the US. They're completely dominating the match, aside from the occasional Brazilian foray into their half.
32 min: This match is starting to get physical. The tackles, while clean, are still flying in everywhere. Brazil is desperate to claw back a goal before halftime.
35 min: Andre Santos receives a gorgeous through-ball from Robinho, but Howard is up to the challenge as the US surrenders a corner. Great ball, even better save.
36 min: I take back everything I've ever said about Bob Bradley. This 4-4-2 lineup he's had out there for the last three matches has scored seven goals without conceding one, and against some of the best in the world. Andre Santos is booked for a foul on Altidore, and Donovan has a chance to make it 3-0.
37 min: That was close. Brazil surrenders the corner, which is better than a goal I suppose. Donovan's kick finds the arms of Cesar.
38 min: Donovan is forced to foul Fabiano to give his teammates a chance to get back. No card, but this is a very dangerous spot. 35 yards out, with all of Brazil's weapons near the box.
39 min: Brazil opts for the cute approach, a series of short layoffs that end up giving the US possession. Charlie Davies had Altidore wide open in the center, but lost it.
41 min: Speaking of Altidore, he's doing a nice job holding the ball while Brazil hacks at him. Jozy, it's not the 85th minute, pass it once in awhile.
42 min: A wicked shot by Robinho is saved by Howard once again. He's been huge today, but hasn't faced nearly as much pressure as he did against Spain.
43 min: Watching Brazil now is like watching Arsenal...lots of fancy passing, almost no shooting. It doesn't have to be a picture-perfect goal, it just has to go in.
45 min: Andre Santos tries to get a cross in, but Onyewu has parked himself in the center of the pitch. He's like the Black Knight out there, none shall pass. Brazil eventually earns a corner, but can't do anything with it.
Never in my wildest dreams did I see this coming. The US jumped all over Brazil at the beginning and haven't really let up. Bradley seems to have stumbled onto the ideal lineup for his US squad, and if he doesn't play a 4-4-2 for every match from here on out, he should be fired.
Brazil looks to be in shock, which is understandable. They started to pressure the US defense toward the end of the half, but couldn't crack the back line. They've got to consider making some big changes at halftime, and will now be forced to play with an air of desperation.
We're treated to a replay of Dempsey's goal against Egypt, which was pretty much identical to his goal about 40 minutes ago. I can't decide who is more worthy of adulation, Dempsey or Spector. I'll have to divvy it up between the two.
2nd half kick: The US is current 2/5 favorites to win this match. I never thought I'd see the day where Brazil was a longshot in a match that involved the US.
46 min: GOOOOAALLLL!!! Luis Fabiano pulls one back for Brazil by putting his shot through DeMerit's legs. That was quick. I guess those halftime orange slices worked some magic for the Selecao.
49 min: The US is struggling a little bit to regroup. This is a critical stage in the game...hold off the Brazilian momentum and you can pull off the upset. Surrender a second goal, and things will get ugly.
50 min: Feilhaber gets in well behind the Brazilian defense and cuts his pass back to the center. Unfortunately, he had already let the ball trickle out for a goal kick. There's such a fine line between brilliance and utter failure.
53 min: Davies errs on yet another break. Donovan was open in the center, and Davies tried to slow down the play and take it himself. That was poor.
54 min: Feilhaber fouls Kaka on the right wing, and Brazil has a chance to equalize. Altidore is back to clear the danger.
55 min: Feilhaber fouls Kaka yet again, with a little jersey tug. That wasn't subtle enough, the ref caught him. The free kick is sent right into the base of the wall, and Brazil is eventually whistled for offsides.
58 min: A great tackle from Spector denies Kaka entry into the box, but it results in a corner. Brazil is starting to pile it on.
59 min: The corner falls to Lucio on the back post, but Howard comes up with a stunning save! Luis Fabiano blasts the rebound into Durban.
60 min: Kaka hits a dangerous header towards the bottom corner, but Tim Howard deflects it into the underside of the crossbar. You can't get any closer than that without scoring, and the upset is still in play.
62 min: Replays show that Kaka's shot may have gone in. There isn't a camera directly on the goalline so we can't get conclusive evidence, but that wasn't kept out by much.
64 min: Brazil looks like themselves now, whipping in menacing crosses at every chance and forcing the US to scramble to keep shots away. I don't know if the US can maintain their lead with this sort of pressure. They need to break out on the counter again to buy themselves some time.
65 min: Donovan answers my prayers with a long-distance shot that handcuffs Cesar. Throw-in for the US and they've got another chance.
66 min: Dempsey takes another shot, which forces Cesar into action. Great chance there. Brazil sub, Alves on, Elano on, Ramires off, Maicon off.
68 min: Luis Fabiano is whistled for a foul, and he's incensed. Tough call for the official, but it looks to be a good one.
70 min: Lucio is booked for dissent after a shove to Altidore. Hansson has been on top of things today, generally letting the players decide the outcome.
71 min: A great through-ball finds Luis Fabiano, but Howard is off his line quickly. He screams at his defense, and rightfully so. They got caught watching the ball there.
72 min: Davies wastes his 57th chance of the evening, taking one touch too many in front of goal. Could've taken a shot, instead turned it over. He's been good until he's needed to make a decision.
74 min: GOOOOAAALLL!! Luis Fabiano equalizes after some frantic (and decidedly poor) defending from the US. Through Bocanegra's legs, off the crossbar, onto Fabiano's forehead. That was terrible.
75 min: US sub, Kljestan on, Altidore off. Bornstein on, Feilhaber off. I don't understand these moves at all. Bradley has now moved into the completely ineffective 4-5-1.
78 min: Is Bob Bradley hoping to play for the draw and take his chances with penalty kicks? The US doesn't have much of a chance to get forward now with Bornstein in the midfield, and the ineffective Kljestan on as well.
79 min: Melo catches Donovan in the back of the head. That was perilously close to a second yellow card for Melo. Donovan takes the free kick, and nearly finds Dempsey's head. Good goalkeeping by Cesar.
81 min: Bornstein gives Charlie Davies a taste of his own medicine, by neglecting to give him a through-ball that would have put him in on goal by himself. Bornstein's shot is very wide.
84 min: The clock has disappeared. I'd switch to Telemundo, but they don't use a 90-minute clock and I'm terrible with maths.
85 min: GOOOAALLL!!! And that's it for the US. Terrible marking lets Lucio get free on the back post during a corner kick, and he puts it past Tim Howard. The US has fought valiantly, but they just didn't have the energy to hang on in this one.
87 min: It's been a tale of two halves in Johannesburg. The US were the dominant side in the first half, but Brazil showed everybody why they were the pre-match favorites with a great second half performance. There is still some time left, but it's gotta be impossible.
88 min: US sub: Conor Casey on, Clark off. I don't like this at all. Casey was terribly lazy against Brazil last time out.
90 min: The US is trying to get bodies forward. If they could just win a set piece, there would be some hope. They've got three minutes of stoppage time to make something happen.
90+2 min: Brazil is doing what they do best: short, crisp passes to keep possession. They aren't looking to score, and this is a very effective defense.
Full time: And that's all she wrote. Brazil pulls off the amazing comeback victory after a gutsy US performance put them in a 2-0 hole.
The US has nothing to be ashamed of though. They looked great in this match, and only fell short at the very end against one of the best teams in the world. They'll have loads of confidence going into the Gold Cup and the final rounds of World Cup qualifying.