Wednesday’s Confederations Cup semifinal between the United States and Spain had David v. Goliath written all over it. Coasting to the semis with three wins out of three, it looked like Spain was about to teach the US a lesson in tiki-taka.
With the US advancing to the semis after shipping six goals to Italy and Brazil, the drawbacks of a two group, eight team tournament were pretty clear. How a side that was blown out in two games and won one deserved to go through may not seem right, but hey it’s group play, and it’s not like Italy and Egypt did themselves any favors.
For European champions Spain, with the flash of Liverpool’s Fernando Torres and Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas, and a partial spine of Barcelona in Xavi, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, this should’ve been their 16th straight victory, and a record-setting 37-match unbeaten streak.
Instead, the US rendered Spain impotent, thanks to stellar netminding from Everton’s Tim Howard. The scoring came courtesy of Fulham’s Clint Dempsey, and Villareal’s loaned-out striker, Jozy Altidore.
How a squad could look so horrible against an aging Italy and look so good against a pretty side like Spain isn’t that surprising. Anyone who’s watched Arsenal fail to finish against a mid-table team will tell you that even the least technical and lumbering of sides can win if they’re organized and take advantage of mistakes.
And Spain’s mistakes cost them. Altidore’s goal in the 27th minute showed how strong the youngster is, but also made Joan Capdevila look like a limpid rag doll. Dempsey’s goal in the 74th made the Spanish backline look comical, from Pique’s deflection of Landon Donovan’s cross off his heel, to Sergio Ramos’ touch to setup the Fulham striker for the US’s second goal.
The big names like Torres and Fabregas were shut down by the lesser-known names like Dempsey and Howard, and it’s hard not think of Fabregas’ Gunners if you saw Spain today. So fluid and dominant in posession, La Roja look like Barcelona, with a few Premier League stars and a couple of Merengues at the back (and of course the Davids: Silva and Villa). But, like Arsenal, they lacked that final ball, and mistakes in defense hurt them dearly.
What can you take from this upset? Perhaps not much; though the US will ride a wave of euphoria until next summer’s World Cup, but whether or not the they can achieve results from the same tactics in a bigger and deeper tournament remains to be seen. For Spain, it’s merely a blip. It may put Vicente del Bosque in the papers a bit more for the wrong reasons, but with Italy on the wrong side of the hill, Spain still is the team to beat in Europe. It does however, show what you can do against the top-ranked team in the world if you can contain Xavi.
While there’s really nothing else to watch between seasons, the Confederations Cup’s perceived relevance is artificial at best. New Zealand and South Africa’s inclusion, as representatives of Oceania and the host of the 2010 World Cup, respectively, does little to set pulses racing. But the prospect of the United States possibly facing Brazil in a final may be enough to get Americans into football and away from sah-ker. That is, if South Africa don’t pull off an upset of their own on Thursday.
Spain 0 – 2 United States [FIFA]