Brazil shows why it's Brazil
Brazil won the Confederations Cup title with a strong second-half onslaught
The Americans stunned Brazil with goals by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan
The score may not have been as close, were it not for U.S. goalie Tim Howard
JOHANNESBURG -- Pedigree matters. If it didn't, we might not have witnessed what happened at Ellis Park on Sunday, an unstoppable rally that gave Brazil the Confederations Cup title in a 3-2 win over the U.S. (RECAP). Heck, when was the last time you saw a team come back from two goals down at halftime in a major final? (Apart from the 2005 Champions League final, that is.)
Certainly, coming back from a two-goal deficit is not the kind of thing you associate with Brazil. (Indeed, you don't generally associate two-goal deficits with Brazil, period.)
"Yeah, we're certainly not used to being two goals down, not when we're playing for the Seleção," said goalkeeper Júlio César after the match. "That was new to most of us. But that's where [head coach] Dunga came in. He told us we had to believe; he told us that we were strong enough, technically, mentally and physically. You know, when Dunga says things, you tend to believe him because we all know what he was like as a player: He was a true fighter who never gave up. And in those conditions, having a manager like that makes a big difference."
Dunga wasn't everybody's cup of tea as a player and the purists may still sniff in his general direction. The idea of employing two holding midfielders like Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo, plus a worker bee like Ramires, may not be in keeping with the aesthetes and their "Jogo Bonito" mantra. But there can be little question that Dunga has added a different, tougher dimension to the Seleção, injecting an element of grit and toughness, without compromising the technique and creativity.
Yet in the first half Sunday, Brazil looked fairly dazed, shell-shocked by the U.S.' one-two punch of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. If the first goal was a function of some not-so-tight marking (a fact which made Dunga blue in the face), the second was the result of a perfectly executed U.S. counterattack. Donovan to Charlie Davies, back to Donovan, André Santos turned inside-out, ball in the back of the net. It was textbook stuff, intelligently and accurately executed.
Dunga may no doubt have been tempted to change things around at halftime. The thunder-and-lightning combination of Jozy Altidore and Davies was giving his defenders -- particularly Luisão -- fits. Meanwhile, Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu were effectively shackling Luís Fabiano while, in central midfield, despite the absence of Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber were forcing Kaká into uncomfortable positions.
Then, barely after the second-half kickoff, came Fabiano's goal, a gorgeous swivel and shot which halved the U.S. lead and swung the momentum decisively the other way. The timing of goals does matter and, perhaps, the worst possible time to concede is either side of the break.
Brazil ratcheted up the pressure, Tim Howard was called to make a number of fine saves (the kind which deservedly won him the goalkeeper of the tournament accolade, despite conceding nine in four outings) and you got the sense it was just a matter of time before the Seleção broke through. Kaká's header should have been the equalizer -- Howard palmed it away after the ball had crossed the goal line -- but the goal wasn't awarded. No matter. Fabiano's strike made it 2-2 after Robinho hit the crossbar with the U.S. goal under a full-fledged siege.
U.S. head coach Bob Bradley had no cards left to play at this stage. With Altidore off the pitch, there wasn't much punch left and, in some ways, Lúcio's winning header was predictable. There was only so much of a battering the admirable Onyewu-DeMerit partnership could take before eventually crumbling.
"Look, we played well, we gave them a very good fight," said Dempsey after the match. "It's just that they created more chances and scored more goals and deserved to win. Sometimes you just have to accept that."
For Brazil, it's the third Confederations Cup title. And while this tournament may lag far behind the World Cup or the continental championships (like the Euros or the Copa América), make no mistake about it, the players who were here were 100 percent committed.
"Am I prouder of this or of the Champions League [title with Barcelona]?" asked Brazilian defender Dani Alves. "Both, because I didn't start either final, but still feel like they belong to me."
Brazil showed a solidity and a cohesion which hasn't always been there in the big tournaments. Credit for that has to go to Dunga. As for the U.S., it was a cruel defeat, but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The bottom line is that Bradley's crew more than held its own against opponents who were qualitatively on another level. Howard, Dempsey and Bradley are the only U.S. players who get regular playing time in a major European league (though admittedly, Donovan and a few others probably could as well).
This U.S. team is greater than the sum of its parts. It showed a maturity and an intelligence which hasn't always been there in the past. And there are enough players with a sizeable upside who, one hopes, will continue to develop: Bradley, Altidore, Feilhaber and Davies. The trick is building upon what was achieved here in South Africa next summer.