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Confederations Cup 2009: Why The US has a Realistic Shot versus Italy


As discussed yesterday on this site with our retrospective of the 1999 Confederations Cup run by the United States it’s possible even realistic for a properly motivated American team to beat European sides outside of Europe. Keep in mind a European country has never once one a FIFA competition outside Europe..(Denmark’s 1995 Confederations Cup win was before the event was FIFA sanctioned and promoted)

Playing at altitude and on small pitches makes European sides especially vulnerable. This US team isn’t as good as the team we took to Mexico in 1999 and has serious questions on the back line but if they fight they have a good shot against Italy. The Italians have traditionally made more work out of playing the Americans than any other powerful side in the world.


Few who read this website remember the matchup between the US and Italy in 1984. The US held the mighty world champions to a scoreless draw at a friendly in front of a pro Azzuri crowd at the Meadowlands. That day this ten year old boy was convinced that the US would finally qualify for a World Cup in 1986, after a thirty six year absence from the world’s largest sporting event.

It was not to be. The US only needing a draw to advance to the final group of qualifying lost to Costa Rica in Torrance and World Cup dreams had to wait four more years.


On paper the US squad seeking qualification in 1990 was weaker than the team that had fallen short for the 1986 World Cup. But under Coach Bob Gansler, the US played a disciplined system tight at the back and very cautious going forward. Shockingly, the US qualified for its first World Cup in 40 years.

After giving up five goals against Czechoslovakia in the first game the US entered Roma’s Olympic Stadium with pundits across the globe, predicting a 7-0 score line or worse. I was in the UK for this game and was so embarrassed by the first match of the tournament I honestly tried to avoid watching this game.

But my British based relatives forced the issue and much to everyone’s surprise the American team played the game of their lives losing only 1-0 to the host nation and having two very good chances to draw late courtesy of Bruce Murray and Peter Vermes.


Everyone reading this site recalls the US draw with Italy in World Cup 2006. In that match the eventual World Champions wilted under the summer German heat, the pro American club and the nergy level a nine man US team brought. The US forced to play with three at the back late got heroic efforts from the likes of Jimmy Conrad (hint to Bob Bradley, he’s still active) and perhaps the greatest American field player ever Landon Donovan in the improbable draw.

Let’s get right down to it: the Italians are the reigning world champions, but they aren’t Brazil who can overwhelm you with talent and flair. As we discussed yesterday Bruce Arena had three signature victories over world powers in his first nine months on the job. Two and a half years on the job and Bradley’s best result against a world power was a 0-0 draw vs Argentina where Tim Howard finished with double digit saves.

This is Bradley’s chance to record that signature win Steve Sampson got as an interim coach over Argentina in the Copa America and which Arena got in bunches early. I expect the Americans to be properly motivated to face a team whose record outside of Europe is questionable and whose play on narrow pitches is poor. (It’s no wonder why Serie A sides consistently struggle with the congestion of  the short and narrow English pitches in European competition)

Yesterday Zaki was ruled out of the tournament for Egypt. This also is a massive break for the US, and suddenly advancement to the second round looks attainable if still somewhat unrealistic.

Brazil under Dunga have been transformed into a tactically savvy side that won’t lose or draw a team like the US which offers little in the way of attacking quality. I often times get into debates with American soccer fans insular in their world view who say “we always beat Mexico so we should be ranked higher.” Until last year the US NEVER should have been ranked higher than Mexico despite consistently beating the Mexicans at home.

Why? Did you know Mexico has beaten Brazil six times in competitive matches since 1999? Competitive matches do not include friendlies. Mexico has beaten Brazil in two Confederations Cups, two Copa America’s and two Gold Cups.  The US on the other hand looks tremendously outclassed whenever they face Brazil in serious non friendly match. Expect that to continue on Thursday.

So the Italy game looms large because history has taught us that:

a) European team do badly outside of Europe and

b) the US generally plays Italy tough even when undermanned.

c) Italian club sides and the national team struggle on smaller pitches

That adds up to a minimum expectation of a draw for team USA.

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  1. Marco

    June 14, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Heya everyone from an italian dude ^^
    I think US got his chances against Italy in this match. The italian team is almost the same as the 2006 one, just with 3 years more (and in 2006 our team was still quite old). The biggest talents we have (Cassano and Balotelli) are at home, because Lippi can’t (or does want to) manage “hot-heads”.
    Add that US in 2006 made a good match against us, and that since 2006 we are not playing the best soccer I ever seen in my life, and you ll see that the chances are not so small.
    Good luck everyone and may the best one win ^^
    p.s. sorry about this, but still I’ll say FORZA ITALIA! :p

  2. Special K

    June 14, 2009 at 10:45 am

    A Realistic Shot versus Italy? perhaps their only chance at something but not very realistic. Italy has too much depth but where the US will benefit is Lippi’s inability to find a strike partner for Toni and/or come to the conclusion the Azzurri should play without the big man and give someone else his place.

    Scoring should be low, possibly a 1-0 winner for Italy
    check us out at

  3. Earl

    June 13, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Yankee Hooligan is right about Bradley. These previous games were under Gansler, Bora and Arena, coaches who despite their limitations had some idea how to pick a team and set up tactically. Bradley is clueless.

  4. Yankeehooligan

    June 13, 2009 at 10:34 am

    All those nice historical statistics mean very little when you are led by a coach with a 6-8-1 record away from the States. And three of those wins are against subpar CONCACAF competition (Cuba, Guat, Barbados), the others were Poland, Sweden and S. Africa. The embarrassment at the Copa America in 2007 should have been Bradley’s last tournament. He’s an OK strategist but he is absolutely terrible at player selection and positioning. Beasley at left back? C’mon. A stiff wind blows him over. I liked seeing Torres out there against the Ticos but not in an away qualifier when you need experience. Sigh. Am I the only Bradley hater out there? Somebody tell me I’m wrong about him and he’s not going to end up putting guys like Eddie Lewis and Danny Califf on the 2010 team.

  5. Seybold

    June 13, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Kartik is correct that European teams struggle outside of Europe. Remember Korea/Japan ’92? Was it that non-European teams were playing better? Or that European teams, accustomed to playing only in Europe, were a long, long way from home? European teams have won ZERO World Cups outside of Europe.

    In any case Italy is likely to go a bit experimental here, because the team they have now isn’t good enough to win a world cup, and their coach knows it, so there will likely be Italian players who just aren’t familiar with one another on the pitch. Like when we beat Argentina 3-0 in Copa American in 1995. The poor Argies looked like they weren’t even on a first-name basis.

    Not that I think we have any chance at all, but this won’t the all-conquering Italy of 2006–which incidentally was playing very, very close to home. I don’t agree with Kartik’s expectation of a draw, but he’s not off-base in his analysis.

  6. Larry

    June 12, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    No chance.

  7. AVR

    June 12, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Good post! I agree with many of your points and sentiments. The question is will our team show the fight that 1999 team you profiled did or continue to underwhelm. By any objective standard this team is falling well below their ability.

  8. Les

    June 12, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Kartik has gone native, USSF suck up on us.

    You may try and delude yourself mate, but we have no chance. NONE WHATSOEVER.

    As far as history, the 1992 and 2006 teams were better than this current team and the 1990 team bunkered and was disciplined. This team has more talent than any of those teams but no leadership and a sorry excuse for a coach. We get killed.

  9. Thomas Skull

    June 12, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    kartik, from your mouth to god’s ears. let’s all hope so!

  10. Mike

    June 12, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Wow, I have to disagree. The bulk of your argument for why the U.S. ties Italy is an historical one? I’m sorry, but I’m not a fan of comparing 1984 to 2009. Granted, Italy may not play well off the continent, but you know what? They’ve got loads more talent than the U.S. does; they’re seasoned, sharper and better and that gives them the edge. The U.S. is not at its best right now while Italy is cruising in its WC 2010 qualifying (granted, it’s against a weakish group). Italy beats the U.S. because it’s better. That’s all.

  11. Gods own Country

    June 12, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    If we win one game, I hope its aganist Italy.

  12. Jason

    June 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I really think the US Soccer team has a better chance of a result against Italy then against Brazil.

  13. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 12, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    OMG, Joey Clams. How could I forget that 92′ game! I cannot believe I just skipped that. I’m going to edit the post later to include that, since that was the most massive result we got between 90 and 94 including the wins over England and Mexico.

  14. Joey Clams

    June 12, 2009 at 11:18 am

    There was the 1-1 draw at Soldier Field in 92, as well. Kartik, what about the rain that night in 84?

  15. Chapka

    June 12, 2009 at 10:41 am

    “Mexico has beaten Brazil in two Confederations Cups, two Copa America’s and two Gold Cups. The US on the other hand looks tremendously outclassed whenever they face Brazil in serious non friendly match.”

    I really think you’re exaggerating here.

    The first and foremost reason the U.S. hasn’t won six competitive matches against Brazil is becasue they’ve only played three times. It’s true we’ve lost all three; but that’s two 1-0 neutral-groung losses in the Confed Cup and a 2-1 home overtime loss in the Gold Cup.

    Mexico in the same span has played Brazil nine times in meaningful matches. They have three wins in Mexico City, where the smog and altitude give them a severe home field advantage; three neutral-site wins (including one at 3,000 fet in Columbia), and three losses, including one 4-0 drubbing.

    That’s a better record than the U.S., certainly, but it’s not as black and white as it might seem outside of Azteca.

  16. Josh

    June 12, 2009 at 9:34 am

    I would love to see the U.S.A. pull off another upset, they need to step up their game and play harder and smarter.

    I hope your right.

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