The Confederations Cup is an eight team soccer tournament that consists of the champions of six continents, the holders of the World Cup, and the host of the upcoming World Cup. This year that field was comprised of Spain, Brazil, the U.S., Egypt, Iraq, New Zealand, Italy, and South Africa.
The competition is not a huge deal. but given its proximity to the World Cup, which will be played next year, the likes of Brazil, Spain, and Italy send their very top players. That means that, for the likes of the U.S., the Confederations Cup provides an opportunity to take on the best.
This year the U.S. landed in a tougher preliminary bracket than it is likely to confront if it makes it to the World Cup. Our competition consisted of Italy, Brazil, and Egypt. In the first match, we more than held our own against Italy until Ricardo Clark was sent off on a questionable call. At the time the score was 0-0. Playing short-handed, we went on to lose 3-1. But judging our performance based on what transpired when it was 11 against 11 — the only fair way to judge it — we weren’t bad.
We had a player sent off against Brazil too, but our play in that 3-0 lose was limp throughout. Thus, there was little positive to take away from that match.
Even so, the reaction from portions of the American soccer media to what amounted to one bad performance against a great team was over-the-top. For example, an ESPN anchor tried to convert an interview with U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu into a self-criticism session.
After Onyewu declined to play along, Alexi Lalas, the former U.S. defender, offered his commentary on the interview (sportscasting at its most narcissistic). Playing the old-fart ex-player role to the hilt, Lalas seemed disappointed in Onyewu’s lack of contrition and suggested that the current team lacked the grit of the U.S. squads he played on. Lalas must have forgotten about the dreadful, lifeless American performance at the 1998 World Cup.
Today, the U.S. took on a good Egyptian side that had upset Italy and played Brazil tough before losing 4-3. Qualifying for the next round would require not just victory, but victory by three goals or more, plus an equally lop-sided win by Brazil over Italy. As this scenario seemed out of the question, my focus was simply on whether we would play well and come away with a win.
But this was to be our day. A 3-0 win by the U.S. coupled with a 3-0 win by Brazil propelled us into the semi-finals. Our second goal was scored by Michael Bradley, son of U.S. coach Bob Bradley. This was the second straight year in which the son scored for the father on Fathers’ Day.
The semi-final will be against Spain (Brazil will take on South Africa in the other). Spain is currently the number rated country in the world, and deservedly so. Playing another top-class team can only be a positive for the U.S. as it looks to qualify for the World Cup, and beyond. Let’s hope our soccer pundits refrain from another ridiculous inquest if, as I expect, the U.S. finds itself outclassed by the Spaniards.