Spain is on a record tying unbeaten run and faces a US team that suffered their worst ever defeat to Brazil last week. But this match isn’t as easy a call as many pundits would make it out to be.
While the Spanish are a formidable side, perhaps the best in the world currently, they don’t have the traditional pedigree of Brazil or Italy two teams the US struggled against last week.
The Spanish continue to amaze but have seemed at times tired and frustrated in this tournament. The entire Spanish team plays at top European clubs and they have been busy since August. A potential world record breaking 36th straight game without a loss beckons for Spain, if they remain focused.
David Villa, Fernando Torres and Xavi remain in good form. Spain has also not conceded a goal in this tournament.
But some potential pitfalls do present itself for the Spanish.
– Only once has a European nation won a FIFA event outside of Europe. That was the 2001 Confederations Cup in Korea/Japan won by France. Denmark’s 1995 King Fahd Cup victory was officially recognized after the event had concluded.
– The US played above all reasonable expectations in previous knock out matches in FIFA events: the 1994 World Cup 2nd round saw the USA hold eventual champion Brazil scoreless for 77 minutes before wilting. The 1995 Copa America semifinal featured a game US team that again gave Brazil everything they could handle before finally succumbing 1-0. In the 1999 Confederations Cup semifinal the USA held Mexico scoreless at Azteca for 97 minutes before giving up a Golden Goal to Cuauhtémoc Blanco. The US beat Mexico in the 2002 World Cup second round and then outplayed eventual finalist Germany in an unlucky 1-0 Quarterfinal loss.
– The USA was 7-13-1 against FIFA top 5 ranked teams under Bruce Arena, Steve Sampson and Bora Milutinovic. Under Bob Bradley the USA is 0-5-1 against FIFA Top 5 nations. In other words either the US is much less competitive against top teams under Bradley or the law of averages means the US will win this game.
– To go along with European struggles outside Europe, Portugal whose style of play in 2002 was similar to Spain today was stunned by the USA at Korea/Japan 02 giving up three goals in 33 minute period of American glory.
Last year’s friendly in Santander right before the start of Euro 2008 was a surprisingly competitive contest. In that game Freddy Adu dominated the midfield early and allowed the Americans to keep possession for much of the first half. But Adu was subbed out by Bradley at halftime and his replacement DaMarcus Beasley was awful. .
The US missed a golden chance served up by Eddie Lewis for Eddie Johnson early in the second half and gradually the possession and chances became one sided. Spain eventually won 1-0 while sitting several regulars. But that first half with Adu pulling the strings showed what the US was capable of on the big stage.
Prior to Bob Bradley’s tenure the United States had a history of rising to the occasion against top national teams. When the US lost to top teams under Arena or Sampson often times the games were ultra competitive. But under Bradley that has simply not been the case.
Will the US rise to occasion tomorrow? My guess is that the US will play very well for a half if the tactical formation is reasonable and not too defensive and then collapse in the 2nd half. But regardless of what we are projecting this is a massive opportunity for our national team.
We have the opportunity to reach a major non CONCACF tournament final for the first time in our history. Regardless of our thoughts about Bob Bradley and some of the current selection of players we must all rally around the flag/US Soccer shield tomorrow and cheer our boys on to victory.