Once upon a time.. The United States was on the verge of winning their first non-CONCACAF title after ending Spain’s incredible unbeaten streak. On the other side of the pitch was the all powerful Brazil. Both sides had two vastly different histories in the international level but for the next 90 minutes, none of that would matter. Brazil’s 3-0 thrashing in the group stage was now left in the past but the United States wanted the ultimate revenge. On that cold night in Johannesburg, South Africa, the United States faced Brazil for the 2009 Confederations Cup final and gave us a gem of a game.
The United States had been labeled as the Cinderella team of the tournament and with good reason. After a rocky start to the tournament, they were able to progressively turn things around. The opened the group stage with back to back losses to Italy and Brazil allowing a total of six goals and scoring just a lone goal. Despite disappointing results in the “Group of Death”, they found themselves able to qualify out of the group with the right combination of factors. As if it was written in the stars. United States hammered Egypt 3-0 and Brazil did them a massive favor and smacked Italy with the same score.
The party was set to end prematurely for the cinderella team. Waiting for them in the semifinals was the best team in the World at the time. Spain had won the 2008 Euro Cup with style and were riding an unbeaten streak dating back to 2006. The red, white and blue showed no fear and took down the Euro champs 2-0 thanks to goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
Brazil’s route was not nearly as difficult. Undefeated in the group stage after scoring 10 goals and conceding 3. A vastly superior opponent compared to everyone in their way, they were expected to play in the final. Substitute Dani Alves made that happen after a game winning free kick goal late, late in the game against South Africa. With Spain eliminated and forced to play for 3rd place, everything was set for Brazil to raise the trophy.
That however, was not exactly what the U.S had in mind. Despite being backed up against the ropes early in the game, they managed to keep the score at 0-0. However, after just nine minutes into the game, Jonathan Spector whipped in a cross from the right side and found an open Clint Dempsey. Dempsey simply redirected the ball with the inside of his foot towards the far post. Though it was not a hard shot, Julio Cesar was unable to explode laterally and the ball slowly bounced its way into the net. Less than 10 minutes in, the United States had taken a massive step towards beating one of the World’s best.
The South Americans continued to attack and stayed true to their game. They knew they had over 80 minutes to at least get one goal in. How hard could it be? They had already faced this team and pounded them 3-0 in this same tournament.
In the 27th minute, they learned the hard way that it was not the same United States team from the group stage. A misplaced pass from a corner kick led to a lethal counterattack by the North Americans. It took the U.S just three passes in a span of 64 yards to run one of the greatest counterattacks I’ve seen. Landon Donovan received the ball at the top of the box, cut to his left, and slotted across the goal and into the back of the net. His massive forehead was as shiny as ever as he ran pointing at himself saying “Me, Me”. Less than 30 minutes in, the underdogs were up 2-0.
To make that goal ever sweeter for the United States, it was nearly identical to the goal they had received from Brazil in the group stage. Lost possession in a corner kick led to a lethal counterattack by Brazil which resulted in a goal. In that case, it was Donovan had lost possession. His celebration in the final proved that revenge is in fact, sweet.
The favorites were down 2-0 going into the tunnel for half time. A confused and shocked Brazilian team needed a very Liverpool-like comeback to win. And that’s exactly what Luis Fabiano did within a minute from the restart. Maicon initiated the play with a nice give-and-go on the wing. He sent in a long ball straight to Luis Fabiano who controlled it with class and elegance, set it up for his left foot, and blasted it straight to the back of the net. More than 40 minutes to play and we had ourselves a game.
Brazil continued to attack and look for the equalizing goal. Their dominance on the flanks was something they were trying to take advantage of. In the 74th minute, that’s exactly what they did. Former Ballon D’Or winner Kaka took the ball on the wing and took it down the flank flying past Spector before whipping in a cross. Kaka’s cross was met by Robinho who found himself alone just inside the six-yard box. somehow missed the target. His shot hit off the crossbar but Luis Fabiano happened to be there to header the rebound in despite Tim Howard’s goal-line clearance attempt.
There was 15 minutes left in the game and all of the momentum had switched in favor of Brazil. 15 minutes left to try to find the game-winner and complete an iconic comeback. Meanwhile, the U.S found themselves desperately wanting to cling on to the tie and wait for the penalty shootouts where anything can happen.
With six minutes to go, Brazilian captain Lucio ended the United States’ hopes and dreams with a simple header. Elano’s perfect corner kick found Lucio unmarked in the far post. The veteran would not forgive and connected perfectly with the ball and hit it off the post and past Tim Howard. As the Brazilians (and South African fans) celebrated their astonishing comeback, the U.S players began to breakdown realizing the glorious chance they had lost.
Lucio’s goal gave Brazil a back-to-back Confederations Cup title adding to their limitless trophy case. Brazil would eventually win a third straight title in 2013 but their World Cup final drought continues to grow. On the other hand, the U.S have yet to make another Confederations Cup appearance despite winning the 2013 Gold Cup. On the global stage, the U.S has yet to truly establish themselves as an elite nation despite being on the verge for several years. A 2009 Confederations Cup final would’ve certainly put the United States in that conversation. If only…