The Confederations Cup isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve seen quotes from managers bemoaning it as a pointless exercise bound to cause burnout as their best players go and play a few more games just to allow FIFA to rake in the cash. After a long hard season, there’s a good deal of sense in that argument. But it would take a lot to prevent these players from representing their country and, for some of the sides were the game isn’t as strong as in Europe, the competition offers some invaluable tournament practice against the bigger nations in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if the tournament has passed you by. Tucked away on BBC3 – the usual home of the kind of silly comedy show that can’t get a prime-time viewing slot on one of the main channels – or ‘behind the red button’ (so you can only access it if you’ve got Sky and don’t fancy the Twenty20 cricket, the Lions or the British GP to take three examples from this weekend) – it had been bubbling away nice and quietly until this weekend.
While the Beeb decided to show the glamour tie between Brazil and Italy (which wasn’t entirely unreasonable given that the States needed a swing that would have flummoxed Peter Snow in order to progress), I tuned in to see if Bob Bradley had learned anything from the first time games: a plucky reverse against Italy and a massacre at the hands of Brazil. Egypt, their final opponents, had looked more than useful in giving the Brazilians a fright and then beating Italy and had a decent chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Bradley shuffled his pack for the first time in the tournament. In came Charlie Davies, the Hammarby striker, and he had the desired effect, bundling the ball home just after the half hour mark. It still had all the hallmarks of a nation playing for pride. But a crazy few minutes in the other game, which saw a horrible Andrea Dossena own goal leave the Italians 3-0 down, threatened to make it interesting.
Egypt were by now a pale imitation of the side that had looked so dangerous in their opening two games. The US had clearly grown in confidence and had stripped the silly errors that cost them so badly earlier in the tournament from their play. Michael Bradley, coming off the back of a fine end to the season in Germany, got a second and then, incredibly, our very own Clint Dempsey demonstrated that remarkable aerial ability we’ve been lauding for so long in guiding a well-directed header home to send the States in the semi-finals.
Whilst this performance shouldn’t mask the fact that the Americans were awful in that game against Brazil, it was a truly remarkable piece of sporting theatre. Next up for Bradley’s boys – a meeting with Spain, who look as though they have no peer in international football, in the semi-final on Wednesday. Which USA will turn up? The deer in the headlights or the roaring lion? It would be a story to match last night’s if it is the latter.