A shocker in South Africa

The U.S. shocked the soccer world today by defeating Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. Spain had not lost in 35 matches and had won their last 15, an international record. Its team today included five players that I rate among the top five in the world at their positions (Casillas, Puyol, Xavi, Torres, and Villa) — all in the “spine” of the team, where matches are usually won or lost.

The U.S., who looked all but dead after decisively losing their first two games of the tourney, won mainly because central defenders — Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit (my man of the match) got the better of Torres and Villa. They were ably assisted by defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark and fullbacks Jonathan Spector and Carlos Bocanegra, who took advantage of Spain’s mediocrity on the wings by pinching in to help on Torres and Villa. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, in turn, covered for Spector and Bocanegra on the flanks.

On the few occasions when all of this failed, Everton’s own Tim Howard pitched in with some excellent saves.

With this much defending to do, the U.S. did not get many scoring opportunities after the first 15 minutes or so when Spain turned it on. But opportunistic finishes by 19 year-old Jozie Altidore and Dempsey provided the margin of victory. Altidore, who is on the books in Spain’s La Liga but who has been unable to obtain much playing time, scored his goal by outmuscling Joan Capdevila, his Villareal teammate.

Frankly I have been looking forward to a Spain-Brazil final (Brazil must first get by host South Africa). But a U.S.-Brazil final would do quite nicely instead.

Responses