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The USA's Amazing South African Sunday
by Ridge Mahoney, June 22nd, 2009 7AM

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[CONFEDERATIONS CUP] Unlike its depressing defeats against Italy and Brazil, in beating Egypt, 3-0, the USA. exploited flaws and characteristics it had detected, but only because its execution and spirit matched the occasion.

Offensively, the Americans pressed a team whose midfielders and defenders had expended great amounts of energy during a 4-3 end-to-end defeat to Brazil and a courageous yet draining 1-0 defeat of Italy. Instead of losing lots of balls in the middle third, as had been the case in the first two games, the U.S. players forced and recovered those turnovers, which were quickly turned into attacks by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

They were able to do so because at the first hint of possession, the Americans were on the move into the attacking third, and an Egyptian defense that had been sliced up by Brazil and needed some heroics from keeper Essam Al Hadary to stymie Italy creaked under the onslaught. They might have been tired, or they might have been overconfident against an opponent that had allowed six goals and scored one while twice losing players to red cards, but regardless of the reason they weren't ready.

Deployed in conventional 4-4-2, the Americans were in forward mode from the first minute and brimming with intensity. Charlie Davies added energy while paired up top with Jozy Altidore, Dempsey wasn't very active but used his touches well, Donovan unhinged Egypt with his sharpness and daring, and in the middle Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark were constantly in motion and finding the right spots.

On the second goal the Americans came right through the middle, and kept the ball moving so quickly and crisply the retreating, re-organizing Egyptians never got into a position to take a foul, much less make a tackle. The one-twos played by Donovan and as they moved the ball upfield before Bradley steered the final pass into the net were borne of their timing and touch, yet aided by the movement of Altidore, Davies, and Dempsey that drew defenders and made space.

That second goal, in the 63rd minute, completely shattered the already cracking confidence of the Egyptians, who were occasionally getting into the attacking third but seldom got balls to attackers in good shooting positions. Coach Bob Bradley took off Altidore -- laboring again with fatigue - to bring on Benny Feilhaber and move Dempsey up top with Davies.

The move paid off less than two minutes after the substitution. Feilhaber pushed high up the wing, leaving a huge gap on the right flank filled by Jonathan Spector. Bradley played the ball into the space, and Spector pushed it forward before launching a dynamic lob that four U.S. players attacked. Dempsey got to it ahead of Donovan and stung his header past El Hadary.

Those two spectacular goals were preceded by one borne of admirable stubbornness. For most of the first 20 minutes, the Americans breached Egypt's center and right side, and finally broke through on a throw-in when Atidore fought off challenges near the byline to stab a cross that the goalie blocked and Davies kept in play as El Hadary, who'd been kicked in the head by a teammate, failed to collect. Eventually, Davies banked the ball into the net off the keeper to score a goal, and the woozy and wounded El Hadary needed about five minutes and a head bandage to resume action.

To contain the Egyptian attack, which was missing one of its key components, Mohammed Zidan, the U.S concentrated on controlling the middle of the field, front to back. Egypt lobbed numerous crosses from the flanks, as outside backs Spector and Jonathan Bornstein, often isolated one-v-one, let keeper Brad Guzan and his defenders duel for those balls in the air.

When Egyptian attackers ran the ball through midfield, Bradley and Clark tracked and tackled doggedly, and Jay DeMerit occasionally stepped forward to intercept a hasty pass. When the ball was played out wide, the center mids and center backs marked tightly to impair any attempts at combination play and be in good starting positions to deal with crosses and passes.

Central defender Oguchi Onyewu read the crosses and angles impeccably, often heading clear without hindrance from opponents. His dominance sapped energy from Egypt's attack, which slumbered for long periods and seriously threatened Guzan only three times. After Davies goal, Guzan dove to his right to save a shot by Mohamed Aboutrika, and Hosni Abde Rabbou unleashed a 25-yard blast that just nicked the top of the crossbar.

In the final minutes finally Egypt connected with a cross that could have nullified all the Americans' efforts. Defender Wael Gomma, victimized by U.S. attackers on several occasions, knifed between Onyewu and Bornstein for a close-range header he drilled just over the crossbar.

On this night, not every bounce went for the Americans. A shot by Altidore early in the second half caromed off the keeper and the chest and arm of one of his defenders standing on the goal line. Probably correctly, no penalty kick was called, yet it was a heartbreaking miss. But 12 minutes later, the Americans scored anyway in stunning fashion, and with a dramatic third goal earned an improbable spot in the semifinals.

June 21, 2009 in Rustenburg
USA 3 Egypt 0.

Goals: Davies 21, Bradley (Donovan) 63 Dempsey (Spector) 71.
USA - Guzan, Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bornstein, Donovan, Clark, Bradley, Dempsey, Davies (Casey, 82), Altidore (Feilhaber, 69).
Egypt -- El Hadary, Fathi (A.Said, 53), H.Said, Gomaa, Farag, Al Muhamadi, Shawky, Aboutrika, Rabbou, Eid (Hassan, 50), Abdelghani (Abougrisha, 62).

Stats: USA/Egypt
Shots: 16/13
Shots on Goal: 10/5
Saves: 4/7
Corner Kicks: 1/8
Fouls: 12/9
Offside: 0/5

Yellow cards: USA -- Spector 38, Bradley 48; Al Muhamadi 83.
Referee: Michael Hester (NZL)

Att.: 23,140


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