Soccer: U.S. scores huge upset over top-ranked Spain
AP Sports Writer
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (AP) – The United States stunned top-ranked Spain 2-0 Wednesday night on goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, advancing to the Confederations Cup final with one of the Americans’ biggest soccer victories.
Altidore scored in the 27th minute and Dempsey added a goal in the 74th as the Americans became the first team to defeat Spain since Romania in November 2006.
The chances of such a U.S. victory seemed slim just a few days ago. The 14th-ranked Americans lost their first two games in the Confederations Cup, an eight-nation World Cup warmup, and were on the verge of elimination.
“I can’t explain it any more than you can,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Sports is funny sometimes, but when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.”
Now they will play defending champion Brazil or host South Africa on Sunday in their first-ever men’s final at a FIFA competition.
“It’s exciting, a great team effort. To beat an amazing team like Spain and make the final, it’s big,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. “We played as hard as we could and that’s what it took. Every guy contributed, so it’s a very good feeling.”
The U.S. has three full days to prepare for the final. It was thoroughly outplayed by Brazil in a 3-0 first-round meeting.
“We take a few hours to regroup, but we’ll be ready,” Bradley said. “We’re so excited about this.”
Spain, the European champion, had set an international record with 15 straight victories and had tied Brazil’s record unbeaten streak of 35 games from December 1993 to January 1996.
“We’re not used to losing,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “We lacked a little of our usual touch. We played a very difficult rival who took us head on.”
Spain outshot the U.S. 29-9 but Howard came up with several big saves.
“We knew we had to pick and choose our moments to go forward,” Dempsey said. “We’re happy with the result and we know we’re going to have our work cut out to get anything out of the final.”
Altidore got the first goal when he outmuscled Joan Capdevila, his teammate on Spain’s Villarreal, to beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Dempsey scored when he pounced on Landon Donovan’s cross, which had bounced off Gerard Pique and the foot of Sergio Ramos.
Midfielder Michael Bradley, son of the coach, will miss the final. He received a red card for a late sliding tackle in the 87th minute, the third U.S. ejection of the tournament.
The United States had been 1-7-1 against top-ranked teams, beating Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup and tying Argentina last summer in an exhibition at Giants Stadium. When the U.S. upset Brazil, goalkeeper Kasey Keller had an outstanding game, just as Howard did.
For the Americans, a longtime soccer outsider, this ranked alongside the upset of Brazil as one of their top wins, below victories over England in the 1950 World Cup, Portugal and Mexico in the 2002 World Cup and Colombia in the 1994 World Cup.
The Americans were boosted by the return of captain Carlos Bocanegra, who had been sidelined since injuring a hamstring during a World Cup qualifier on June 6. He played left back instead of central defense.
The United States had lost its three previous matches against Spain, including a 1-0 in an exhibition on June 4 last year at Santander.
Altidore scored after Dempsey lifted the ball over Pique as Xabi Alonso tried to come in. The ball deflected to the 19-year-old forward, who shot from 18 yards as Carles Puyol attempted to close in vain. The shot went off Casillas’ right arm and into the net.
Altidore was so excited he took off his jersey as he ran toward the stands in celebration, drawing a yellow card.
It was the first goal against Spain in 451 minutes, since Turkey’s Semih Senturk scored on April 1, and just the third goal the Spaniards allowed in 17 games dating to last summer’s European Championship.
Scoring against Spain had special meaning for Altidore, acquired by Villarreal of Spain’s La Liga from Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls for $10 million last summer. He made only two starts and four substitute appearances during the first half of the season for Villarreal, scoring one goal. Loaned to second division leader Xerez on Jan. 30, he didn’t get into a single match.
On Sunday, Altidore had sent a warning to Capdevila.
“He sent me a message and told me that we had to be careful,” Capdevila said. “But his Spanish is not so great, so I think he made a mistake.”