BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – The world will surely take notice of this.
The United States men’s soccer team is in the final of the Confederations Cup after beating top-ranked Spain, 2-0, on Wednesday.
Even more stunning, the Americans were on the verge of elimination and ready to head home last weekend before a reversal of fortune, but goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey led to an upset of the planet’s top-ranked team.
Call it a miracle on grass — maybe not the World Cup, but still an American soccer echo of the U.S. hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
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By winning, the maligned Americans advanced to their first men’s FIFA final since starting play in 1916.
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.
“It goes to show what hard work and commitment to each other can bring,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made eight saves as he frustrated Spain stars David Villa and Fernando Torres. “Sometimes football is a funny thing.”
Now the U.S. will play defending champion Brazil or host South Africa in Sunday’s final, which concludes a two-week tournament designed to prepare the organizers of next year’s World Cup.
Midfielder Michael Bradley will miss the final. He received a red card for a late challenge in the 87th minute, the third American ejection of the tournament.
“I think it just shows that we can compete with the best. Now we need to do it on a consistent basis,” U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said.
Spain had set an international record with 15 consecutive victories and had tied Brazil’s record unbeaten streak of 35 matches.
The United States had been 1-7-1 against No. 1 teams, beating Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup and tying Argentina last summer in an exhibition at Giants Stadium.
“This is an accident, a little step backward,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “We have to look forward with optimism.”
Altidore got the first goal when he outmuscled Joan Capdevila, his teammate on Spain’s Villarreal, to send an 18-yard shot in off the hand of goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Capdevila thought he was fouled by Altidore, who had engaged in some trash texting a few days ago.
“I told him, ‘Be careful of the USA.’ And he tried to say I didn’t understand Spanish, so it was just all fun and games,” Altidore said.
Altidore, a 19-year-old forward from New Jersey, was so excited after he scored that 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.
Dempsey sealed the victory, scoring from 6 yards on Landon Donovan’s cross, which had bounced off Gerard Pique and the foot of Sergio Ramos.
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Italy, then was outclassed by Brazil, 3-0. The Americans advanced over the Italians on a tiebreaker – total goals – after beating Egypt, 3-0, on Sunday.