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Brazil strikes midnight on America's Cinderella ball
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By Chris Higginbotham

Cinderella called. She said she wanted her dress back. The United Sates men's soccer team ultimately complied, but not before making the world believe that they, too, could win the handsome prince.

The Confederations Cup championship game was a play in two acts. In Act 1, Brazil was dressed like it was a cold day in Antarctica and the United States played like it was a cold day in hell. The Americans twice danced with the prince, as goals from Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan gave them a 2-0 lead going into the half. The world started to believe they had it in them to take home their first FIFA men's title.

Tim Howard of USA saves a header from Kaka of Brazil on the line during the FIFA Confederations Cup Final between USA and Brazil at the Ellis Park Stadium on June 28, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa. [CFP]

In Act 2, however, Brazil kept on all their layers, but actually played like the team that shut out the U.S. 3-0 earlier in the tournament.

Coincidentally, Brazil beat the U.S. 3-0 in the second half, making the final a 3-2 victory for the South American champions.

The game started off slowly, with Brazil penetrating up the sides but getting thwarted in the middle. The U.S. showed its first sign of life in the second minute, when Clint Dempsey made a rather hopeful attempt at the goal from 40 yards out. Julio Cesar wasn't tested as the ball rolled wide left.

Dempsey got another attempt in the 10th, when Jonathan Spector sent in a beautiful entry from the right side, which Dempsey barely had to touch to send past a diving Cesar to give the Americans an early lead.

Brazil continued to attack and was awarded several corners in the first half, but none led to great attempts on goal.

At least, not for the Brazilians.

In the 26th, Brazil's fourth miserable corner led to a breakout for the Americans, as Donovan and Charlie Davies pressed the thinly spread Brazilian defense in transition. A give-and-go set up Donovan just outside the box and he was able to control the ball and send a low shot across Cesar into the right side of the goal, leaving the Brazilian keeper on his rear end.

It looked like the Americans had it in them to win it. The half ended with them enjoying a 2-0 lead.

That lead didn't last long into the second half, though. Luis Fabiano, who had been a lights-out scorer throughout the tournament, trapped the ball at the 18 with his back to the goal, turned and sent a low screamer past a diving Howard to get Brazil on the board.

A stroke of luck kept Brazil from tying in the 60th, as the referees failed to see a header from Kaka cross the line before Howard punched it out of the goal. The luck was only temporary though, as Fabiano equalized it in the 74th off a rebound from a pathetic shot by Robinho.

The Americans looked powerless to stop the Brazilians and couldn't seem to put together a counterattack.

Their fate was sealed in the 84th, when Brazil finally put a corner to use. Lucio outjumped Onyewu in front of the goal and put the winner past Howard.

The match finished with one last decent attempt on goal for the U.S., when Onyewu sent a header over the crossbar on a corner from Donovan. Brazil was just too good in the second half to give anything up.

It was the first time an American men's team entered the final of a FIFA event. They didn't win the trophy, or the handsome prince, but perhaps they left behind a glass slipper for next year's ball at the World Cup.

(China.org.cn June 29, 2009)

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