For many, Sunday's Confederations Cup dream final between Spain and Brazil should've been a rematch from the first epic in four years ago in South Africa. The stage was set for a historic clash between mighty Brazil and Euro champions Spain.
Except for one minor issue, the United States crashed the party and spoiled the world's fun.
Entering the final group stage match the U.S. needed nothing short of a miracle to advance. They had been steamrolled by Italy and Brazil in their first two matches by a scoreline of 6-1. This set up a scenario that was equal parts straightforward and ridiculous: Beat Egypt 3-0 and have Brazil beat World Cup holders Italy 3-0 or go home. It happened.
Their reward was FIFA No. 1 Spain and their vaunted 35-match unbeaten run. To fans and pundits outside of the States, the match was a mere formality before the world got to witness the heavyweight title fight they so desperately craved.
Ninety mintues later, a historic 2-0 victory thanks to Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey (and Tim Howard), ended the Spanish streak and dropped the collective jaws of the soccer fans around the world to the floor. The outsiders were heading to their first-ever final.
The "fluke result" against Spain was going to be exposed when the Brazilians laid waste to the intruder U.S. squad. What unfolded was one of the most entertaining, surreal, run-the-gamut-of-emotions matches ever played by the U.S. In honor of this year's final that wasn't in '09, let's dust off those makarapas, pick up a sixer of warm Castle Lager and take a trip with me down Confed Cup memory lane.
We're live from Ellis Park, home to lukewarm Budweiser, barely cooked boerewors roll and atrocious Matt Damon South African accents. The match already feels dated as JP Dellacamera and John Harkes are on the call. One can only speculate that the mellifluous tones of Sir Ian Darke, surely, would have led the U.S. team to victory.
As the lineups flash on screen, it's staggering to see how much has changed with both teams over the course of four years. The U.S. has a completely different back four and only Dempsey and Jozy are current squad regulars featuring in the final. Michael Bradley was suspended for the match due to a red card against Spain, so Ricardo Clarke and Benny Feilhaber were tasked to lock down the middle of the pitch. Brazil has only two total players who were in the 2009 squad on this current team, Julio Cesar and Dani Alvez. Two players, and they are back in the finals four years later. That's insane considering Spain was pretty much the same side, outside of a few fringe defenders and holding midfielders.
The national anthems are played and the U.S. team looks very stoic. Only Howard sings along to the "Star Spangled Banner." Brazil looks like a team that knows it thrashed its opponent 3-0 a week prior. Andre Santos looks like a man who is thinking about pie and possibly which U.S. player's jersey he's going to snag at halftime.
The vuvuzelas ring out from the crowd as the teams shake hands. Let me be the 245,875th person to express my elation that said instruments were put out to pasture after the 2010 World Cup. There was nothing worse than a cacophony of bees buzzing in one's ear while nursing a hangover. The mere sound of them four years later triggers me to involuntary twitch.
JP notes the "talent" on both benches. Ummm, we might be overselling this one, especially for the U.S. Only Demarcus Beasley and Brad Guzan have logged significant minutes for the current U.S. team. Same goes for Brazil, which isn't exactly relying on Julio "The Beast" Baptista and Nilmar to shoulder the load these days.
First minute -- The opening kick goes back to Maicon, whose full name is Miacon Douglas Sisenando, an homage to Michael Douglas. The crazy thing about his father naming him after the actor is that Maicon was born in 1981. That's three full years before "Romancing the Stone" and the ensuing Douglas hit parade that was the mid to late '80s. Maybe Mr. Sisenando just really appreciated the subtle bearded nuances of "Its My Turn."
As Brazil begins to ping the ball around, Harkes casually notes Tim Howard made eight saves against Spain. This will become a reoccurring narrative during the match.
Second minute -- Jozy does well to hold the ball up after a clearance from Bocanegra, laying it off for Deuce who rolls a speculative shot wide. A warning shot fired as a sign of things to come.
Third minute -- Dunga is shown, though sadly he is not wearing his trademark Brazilian George Steinbrenner turtleneck/blazer combo. The man who captained Brazil to the '94 World Cup title is known affectionately as "Dopy" in his home country. Tough crowd down there.
Fourth minute -- Gooch closes down Kaka and, moments later, he heads away a dangerous Brazil corner. Before the injury, the sky was the limit for him. On his day, he was a beast in the center of the defense and I wish we would have had the chance to see him at full strength in Milan.
8th minute -- It has been all Brazil since Dempsey's initial shot as Andre Santos, who played every match for Brazil during the tournament, craftily makes his way up field, eluding several U.S. challenges. The Cuddly Maverick (@arseblog) looks significantly less cuddly, although equally as lacking, defensively.
Ninth minute -- JP takes advantage of a lull in the action to state that aside for the shutout of Brazil the U.S. have scored first in all of their matches during the Confed Cup -- and on cue it's in the back of the net!
Jonathan Spector's perfectly placed ball splits two Brazilian defenders and finds Deuce, who steers it into the far corner past a diving Cesar. It's Brazil's first goal conceded in the tournament and they look absolutely stunned. Maybe that match against Spain wasn't a fluke and these guys shouldn't be so easily dismissed.
12th minute -- Brazil shake of the shock of conceding and go on the attack. Howard denies Robinho with a smart save to his left.
Off a corner, Landon slides to keep a ball alive on the sidelines to play a perfect ball up to Charlie Davies in stride. It amounts to nothing in the end but looking back the speed of Davies up top is something that the U.S. simply has not replaced. He added another dimension and was the perfect complement to the power game of Altidore.
13th minute -- The U.S. see two good chances to double its lead slip by, the first a header by Bocanegra, the second a scrambled corner that finds Dempsey's boot in the box. Two of many squandered half chances that the U.S. would come to rue not capitalizing on later in the match.
15th minute -- The game has fully opened up with end-to-end action as Brazil push toward the U.S. end. The attack is stymied with Jay Demerit shinning away Kaka's shot from 12 yards.
18th minute -- Boca takes his customary "strategic" yellow card. If for nothing else the current U.S. needs his professional foul ability as an option off the bench.
21st minute -- Gooch with another great defensive header and a quick pan to a crowd shot of a group of U.S. fans holding up the stars and stripes backward. Can we all agree for stadium flag cheering purposes: stars stage left, stripes to the right.
24th minute -- Felipe Melo with a blast from the top of the box that Howard gets down swiftly to parry away. Melo picks up a yellow card after his shot to keep up appearances for the all-head-case team Brazil has out there. I wish Adriano was on the bench eating a giant turkey leg to round out the roster.
25th minute -- Miacon and Kaka play a two-man game, which results in a tight-angle shot from Gordon Geko's namesake that Timmay palms behind for a corner. He had no intention of scoring there, just sizing up the angle for his stunning effort a year later against North Korea.
26th minute -- The ensuing Brazil corner is intercepted and the U.S. doubles its lead!
The goal was the result of a perfect counterattack, the ball taking just nine seconds to go from the top of the U.S. box into the back of the Brazil net. The vision of Landon Donovan combined with speed of Charlie Davies proved to be a lethal combination with Davies running onto the Donovan's pass and playing a perfect first-time ball back to Landon, who did the rest. The touch cutting the ball from his right, wrong footing the defender, slotting it home with his left foot, encapsulate the brilliance of Donovan when he is on his game. Arguably one of the best (at least aesthetically) that the U.S. has ever scored.
29th minute -- Yet another ball into the box goes achingly close to finding Jozy standing all alone at the far post. Oh what a third goal would have done.
34th minute -- Robinho absolutely works Spector at the top OF THE AREA, playing in Santos who is stoned at point blank range. That's four saves already for Mr. Howard if you are scoring along at home.
35th minute -- That's the Cuddly Maverick (@arseblog) we all know and love. Santos "defends" the onrushing Altidore with a comical kick towards the ball then hauls him down as Jozy glides past. He's promptly booked and is incredulous at the sight of the yellow card. I now regret not purchasing this shirt when I had the chance:
38th minute -- Off of a failed Brazil free kick, Davies is once again on his bike, chasing down a loose ball and in the Brazil end. Davies was really a difference maker all tournament and added another dimension to the U.S. attack. While he didn't always play the right final ball, his speed and effort more than made up for it.
39th minute Luis Fabiano, who is on a yellow card, smashes a shot at Timmy well after the off sides whistle had gone (who saves it anyway) and gets away with a warning. If this were in the Nou Camp he would have been immediately shown red.
The last five minutes of the half unfold as follows:
Brazil shot, U.S. turnover. Rinse and repeat.
After one minute of stoppage time the referee mercifully blows signaling the half.
The U.S. team limps off the field with the look of a fighter who had been winning a round, only to get pinned on the ropes for the last 20 seconds and pummeled with body blows. The whistle couldn't have come any sooner.
Summary of the breathless halftime commentary: 2-0, THE TOUGHEST LEAD IN SOCCER! NOBODY FREAK OUT, MAINTAIN COMPOSURE! CAN'T BELIEVE WE ARE BEATING BRAZIL! ... SET PIECES.
45th minute -- GOAL BRAZIL. Thirty-Seven seconds. All of the tactics, the locker room speeches, all of the stylish play of the first half thrown away in a little over half a minute. Maicon (who else) picks out Fabiano at the top of the box, who with a brilliant turn, nutmegs DeMerit and lashes a low shot into the lower left corner of the net.
I forgot how quick the Brazil goal came, in reality it was simply them picking up right where they left off at the end of the first half as if the intermission was a brief break in play. Pretty much the exact opposite of what the U.S. wanted to happen when they walked out of the tunnel for the second-half kick.
47th minute -- "The U.S. can't sit back and look stunned," says Harkes, and to the team's credit they've regrouped and settled down. The U.S. have a great shape defensively and are frustrating the Brazilian attack by parking the bus at the top of the bus and looking for the counter.
52th minute -- Landon with yet another flick to a flying Davies, who fluffs his lines and makes the wrong decision. The U.S. had numbers on the break and squanders another great chance to get that elusive third.
55th minute -- Great slow-mo camera work catching Julio Cesar creepily motor-boating his lips out of frustration with Lucio angrily talking to himself. On a side note, Lucio looks like a character straight out of Dick Tracy.
57th minute -- Lucio in on the action this time as he's unmarked at the back post forcing a diving reaction save from Howard. The Brazil captain throws his hands up in disgust. I WANT TRACY DEAD!
58th minute -- Brazil are starting to pour on the pressure as Maicon plays another ball into the box that tests Howard. The U.S. can't seem to gain possession in the middle of the park, Bradley's absence is starting to weigh heavily as the match wears on.
59th minute -- Robinho to Kaka far post and ... save by FIFA! The ball was clearly over the line and should have been a goal. To Howard's credit he sells it for yet another save. Cue the "video replay" conversation in the booth. At least it happened in the warm-up tournament so the issue of goal line technology could be addressed prior to the World Cup the following year, thus saving FIFA the embarrassment of a high profile gaff ... oh right.
61st minute -- Gooch with a diving header and clearance to momentarily spell the pressure. Brazil is pretty much setting up camp in the U.S. box, the tying goal seems imminent.
64th minute -- After great hold-up play by Charlie Davies the U.S. back line gets a much-needed respite. Landon settles the attack down and then tests Cesar from distance with a swerving effort. Moments later Dempsey cracks a shot right at the Brazilian keeper, who punches the ball away. These two shots would be the last to hit the target for the U.S.
65th minute -- Brazil make two changes: Dani Alves on for Andre Santos (suffice to say that was the last time that ever happened) and former Man City midfielder Elano on for Ramirez.
70th minute -- The U.S. back four gashed as Fabiano is sent through with the goal at his mercy, only to be smothered by Tim Howard. If not for Timmay the U.S. would have lost this match 7-2, he was immense all evening.
73rd minute -- GOAL BRAZIL. A Davies turnover leads to a Brazil counterattack that catches the U.S. off guard. Kaka blows by Spector and sends a cross to an unmarked Elano on the back post. His re-direction caroms off the bar and Louis Fabiano is the only on to react, heading the rebound into the open goal. It's his fifth goal in four matches and solidifies him as the golden boot winner.
74th minute -- With the score knotted at two Bob Bradley rolls the dice with Sasha Klestian and Jonathan Bornstein for Jozy Altidore and Feilhaber. About that bench depth we were discussing earlier ...
76th minute -- The U.S. players suddenly look unsure with every pass they play. A particularly shaky sequence is capped off with an uncharacteristic errant boot by Howard. Brazil has the look of a team that desperately wants a third goal in regulation so they can get up to the Rustenburg casinos.
84th minute -- GOAL BRAZIL. Their second-half dominance is capped off by their captain as an unmarked Lucio heads in Elano's corner. Somewhere in Bristol, Alexi Lalas is huddled in a corner like Danny in the Shining muttering "set pieces" over and over to himself.
As the Brazil team celebrates, the U.S. players channel their inner Ralph Wiggum. They know they've just let a golden opportunity at a trophy slip through their grasp.
87th minute -- The U.S. win a corner and Bob Bradley uses his final substitution of the match. He reaches for the ace up his sleeve ... pulls out Connor Casey. Landon plays yet another great ball into the box only to have Gooch squander the last of the U.S. chances by sending his unmarked header screaming over the bar.
89th-93rd minute -- Brazil execute a master class in killing off a game. The final whistle sounds and Brazil pile on each other in celebration. For a trophy that supposedly doesn't mean anything, Brazil sure looks happy to win.
Despite coming up short, the U.S. proved a point to the rest of the soccer world. Despite not being the dream matchup that the masses craved, the USMNT more than held up their end of the bargain providing fans with a thrilling match and a classic final.
Spain had a tough act to follow.
Bryan McAleer is an ESPN FC contributor based in NYC. He is an Arsenal and USMNT supporter with a penchant for Dennis Bergkamp, 10am pints, and the '94 US denim kit. Follow him on Twitter: @mickaleer