[CONFEDERATIONS CUP]To keep alive its slim hopes of advancing to the Confederations Cup semifinals, the USA must at least accomplish something it has never done at this level when it faces Brazil Thursday (9:55 a.m. ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura) in Tshwane/Pretoria.
Get a tie.
Its chances of doing so look remote, yet while beating Egypt, 4-3, in its opening game Monday, the Brazilians at least seemed vulnerable defensively while typically relentless on the attack. And despite starting the tournament by losing to Italy, 3-1, the Americans performed creditably while down a man for nearly an hour against the world champion.
Aside from that incredible 1-0 victory in the 1998 Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals, the USA has always faltered against Brazil. The all-time record is 1-12-0, though nine of those defeats have been by a single goal. A 4-2 loss two years ago in a friendly at Soldier Field in Chicago featured an early goal by Carlos Bocanegra that provided a 1-0 lead and a strike by Clint Dempsey in the second half that briefly tied the match at 2-2. Ronaldinho scored two minutes later to restore the natural order, and Elano converted a penalty kick in stoppage time.
Though that match was a friendly, and this competition, at least officially, is an official FIFA tournament, Brazil's level of motivation against Egypt left something to be desired.
"We know their talent," said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley during a press conference Wednesday. "We played them in September of 2007, and the way they play remains very similar to that. Many of the players are the same. In particular, the incredible movement of Robinho and Kaka in conjunction with whoever they choose to play up front -- in the last game that was Luis Fabiano and Elano -- those are attackers who are extremely mobile, creative, and very dangerous.
"As much as they're an attacking team, it's a team that still understands, for sure, how to defend, how to close down. Any time you put players like Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo in front of Juan and Lucio, those are good starting points."
Kaka scored two goals against Egypt, including a stoppage-time penalty kick that deprived the Pharaohs of a most deserved result. Juan and Luis Fabiano also scored, and each of those goals were needed to stave off an admirable Egyptian effort. "Egypt did an incredible amount of hard running in that game," says Bradley. "They weren't afraid in the right moments to pressure Brazil, and if Brazil beat the pressure, they ran very hard to recover and get back and take care of things. They attacked well.
"When you play Brazil, they're an attacking team but you have to be able to attack them as well. When they are defending with six, there are spaces to attack."
Regardless of tactics, history and mathematics are heavily tilted against the Americans, no matter who Bradley chooses to field. Bocanegra, sidelined by a strained hamstring Monday, is listed as questionable. Midfielder Ricardo Clark, whose foolish, high tackle on Gennaro Gattuso removed him from the Italy game in the 34th minute, will serve his suspension in this one.
From the U.S. perspective, it is facing another elite team, albeit the one usually regarded as the best of the best. A result against Italy or Brazil was needed in any case, and only one of those opponents remains, and those two teams have yet to play each other.
The tepid form of Dempsey in the past few games gives rise to speculation he could be replaced by Freddy Adu, though Bradley could play Landon Donovan at right mid, give DaMarcus Beasley another shot on the left side, and try Charlie Davies or Conor Casey as a front-line partner for Jozy Altidore. Still, Adu remains an option in one of the attacking slots, and Jose Francisco Torres deserves to get some time in midfield, particularly with Clark suspended and Pablo Mastroeni not in the squad.
Three years ago at the World Cup, few would have forecast the U.S. getting a 1-1 tie with Italy in its second game. This scenario is much the same.
"Having played in a few tournaments in this format now, the first game is definitely important, but equally important is our next game, and we still have a chance to advance if we can get a result," says Donovan, who converted a penalty kick won by Altidore against Italy. "We learned in 2006 after losing to Czech Republic in the [World Cup] first game and only getting a point out of the second game still gives us a chance to advance against Ghana in the third game.
"Italy is gone now. It was a good opportunity but now it's gone, and we have to focus on Brazil."