USA have earned respect

2009-06-24 00:00

SPAIN will know they have a game on their hands against the 2009 Confederations Cup’s comeback team, the USA, in their semi-final at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein tonight.

Any side that can come back from losing their opening games 3-1 against Italy and 3-0 to Brazil to reach the semi-finals must be treated with due respect, a point alluded to by Spain’s walrus-like coach Vicente del Bosque.

The Americans had been unfortunate to lose by the margin they did against Italy having had midfielder Ricardo Clark harshly sent off in the 33rd minute.

“They [USA] had Italy against the ropes and heavily beat Egypt, who were until then the revelation of the tournament,” Del Bosque said. “They are fast, well-organised, and they will come into the match with plenty of desire.”

After their first two defeats, USA would have had their bags packed for home and even they couldn’t have seriously believed they would reach the semis, even though they still had a mathematical chance going into their final game.

But USA thrashed Egypt 3-0 in Rustenburg on Sunday, which, with Italy losing by the same scoreline to Group B winners Brazil, saw the Americans progress on more goals scored than the Azzurri and superior goal difference to the Pharoahs.

“We knew Brazil were up by three with 45 minutes to go, so if we got two more goals [at 1-0 up] then we’d be in good shape,” said USA’s star midfielder Landon Donovan. “But when the final whistle went we didn’t know if Italy had scored or not.

“I was getting signals, thumbs-up and stuff, as the second half wore on. Then, when it ended, that’s when I knew we’d done it.”

Donovan scored his 40th international goal in the defeat against Italy. He said the U.S. have been given self-belief by their miraculous comeback in Group B.

“I don’t think many teams go into a game against Spain thinking they’ll win. But we thought we were out 10 minutes after our second game here, so it just goes to show that soccer is a crazy game and anything can happen. We’ve proved that,” said the hugely experienced U.S. playmaker, who has 113 caps and has played in two World Cups.

Del Bosque praised in-form striker David Villa, who has put aside personal distractions regarding his on-off move away from Valencia to score in all three of Spain’s matches. Those goals have made Villa Spain’s second-highest scorer with 31 strikes, 13 fewer than top scorer Raul, though 27-year-old Villa has only 47 appearances to the Real Madrid veteran’s 102.

“I think Villa will score more goals than Raul in the national team, but many records will go as well,” said Del Bosque, referring to the likes of Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol and Xavi, who are all closing in on 100 caps and should surpass Raul’s tally.

Del Bosque rested five players in Spain’s final Group A game against South Africa, but will play his strongest team in the semi-final.

Kickoff: 8.30 pm – live on SABC1 and SuperSport 3.

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