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Confederations Cup: Americans dream of New Glory
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Players of the United States celebrate after winning the semifinal match against Spain at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa, June 24, 2009. The United States won 2-0 and advanced to the final. [Xinhua] 

By Chris Higginbotham

It's better to be lucky than good, but most will settle for lucky. The United States was a lot of both Wednesday night in South Africa, as goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey brought down the Goliaths of Spain 2-0.

The American victory broke Spain's record-tying streak of 35 straight international games without a loss. It also placed an enormous foot in the mouths of the countless critics of the Americans' recent performances (including the writer of this article).

The U.S. was a surprise to even make it to the knockout round after losing two lopsided contests with Brazil and Italy. It took an inspiring rout of Egypt, coupled with Brazil's pummeling of world-champion Italy to keep the Americans alive.

Any doubt as to whether the United States belonged in the final four was answered by their spirited play against the team sitting at the top of the FIFA world rankings.

The Americans started off strong, with two great scoring chances in the first nine minutes. Charlie Davies, who opened up the scoring against Egypt, sent a bicycle wide in the eighth. Then Clint Dempsey, who also scored against Egypt, sent a low screamer left of the post after a great setup by Landon Donovan.

Players of the United States celebrate after winning the semifinal match against Spain at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa, June 24, 2009. The United States won 2-0 and advanced to the final. [Xinhua]

The chances brought gold in the 27th, when a deflected pass from Dempsey found Jozy Altidore just inside the box. Altidore masterfully shielded Spanish midfielder Xavi, spun toward the goal and sent one just inside the left post after a deflection form Spain's goaltender, Iker Casillas.

Spain missed an easy chance at an equalizer in the 39th, when David Villa's cross to a wide-open Fernando Torres in the box was too far behind and Torres was unable to put a foot on the ball.

The first half finished with Spain controlling the ball 60 percent of the time, but the Americans were always able to thwart Spain's runs at the goal.

The second half began with a flurry of shots by the Spaniards. Howard had to stop an excellent shot from Villa in the 48th, then watched as another strike sailed over the crossbar.

The second half was full of opportunities, as Spain had six shots on goal – all of them spirited attempts on the back of the net. Howard was equal to them all, swatting balls and scooping shots out of the air. America left holes in the defense at times, but either Howard's hands or the leg of a late approaching defender managed to disrupt every one.

Spain's frustration began to show in the 64th when Jay DeMerit deflected a shot from Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas shouted at himself while stepping over the American defender.

The Americans were able to score again in the 74th when Donovan brought the ball outside the box from the right side. His cross to a streaking Dempsey was a little behind, but Dempsey was able to step back and place a shot after a poor deflection by Gerard Pique.

The United States will have to do without Michael Bradley in the final on Sunday. Bradley received a dubious red card for a late tackle in the 86th minute. It's the third red card the Americans have endured in four Confederations Cup games - none of them well deserved.

On a good note, Carlos Bocanegra was able to return to the pitch for the game after suffering a hamstring injury in a World Cup qualifier against Honduras. He was able to play 90 minutes and should return for the final.

Thursday night features the other semifinal contest between Brazil, who throttled the United States 3-0 in their opening match, and hosts South Africa. The winner will face the United States Monday at 2:30 a.m. China Standard Time. The loser will play the consolation match against Spain.

(China.org.cn June 25, 2009)

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