Confederations Cup preview – U.S.A. vs. Spain

Michael Bradley and the U.S. face Spain today

No chance, right?

That’s what the experts say about the U.S. team’s chances against Spain today in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Well, there’s certainly evidence to support the fact that the odds are currently running 11-to-1 against a United States win. Spain is the world’s top-ranked team and it is also the hottest, coming off a stylish run through the European Championships last summer and riding a unreal 35-match unbeaten streak, including a 1-0 win over the United States in Spain last summer.

They’ve also won 15 straight matches, and the book makers say that the Spanish are 1-to-4 to make it 16 wins on the trot today.

Here are a few keys to today’s encounter (ESPN, 2:25 p.m.):

1. Watch the space– Spain is most deadly when Xavi or Cesc Fabregas can pass the ball around in the midfield, setting up darting runs into the box for the jet-quick Fernando Torres or David Villa. The play of Michael Bradley and probably Ricardo Clark will be key. The U.S. midfield quite simply must play perfect soccer to contain the Spanish attack.

2. Test them –Iker Casillas is a brilliant keeper, but Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevilla like to push up the wings. That opens up space for counter attacks against Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique. Those two players can be exploited by pace, and the Americans have some of that. Set pieces in the box may be key as well, as the U.S. figures to have an advantage in the air.

3. Don’t be stupid– I read this morning that the referee is the same guy who showed the U.S. a pair of red cards in the 2006 World Cup draw with Italy and the fourth official is the guy who sent Sasha Kljestan packing in the group stages of this tournament. Remember the no slide tackle rule I mentioned last week? Might be a good idea here.

Seriously, watch the late challenges and don’t give the ref a reason to reach into his pocket.

4. Spend the house money – Honestly, the Americans should be home prepping for the Gold Cup. Only the rousing 3-0 win over Egypt, coupled with a shambolic effort from the Italians against Brazil got Bob Bradley’s side into this match.

So, since being on this stage was unexpected, why not play loose and relaxed? Have some fun.

My prediction

Now, I freely admit to being a bit of a homer for the national team, but I have a good feeling about today. I don’t see the U.S. coming out and playing an attacking, free-wheeling game against Spain. Instead, I think they’ll take the Iraq approach of stacking the defensive third with bodies and trying to crowd out the Spanish midfield.

That strategy worked for a while for Iraq, and it will work today for the Americans. I see a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes and the Americans advancing in penalty kicks.

Check back here in a couple of hours for the live blog and see how wrong – or right – I end up being…

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