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
in conjunction with whoever they choose to play up front -- in the last game that was Luis
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
, 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
at right mid, give DaMarcus Beasley
another shot on the left side, and try Charlie Davies
or Conor Case
y 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
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."