For all the marbles

Brazil vs. United States

Well, today’s the day.

By the time we eat dinner tonight, the final chapter of the United States’ ride through the 2009 Confederations Cup will be written.

No matter what happens, it has been quite a story.

Whether it’s Judas New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi scoring a brace for Italyagainst the country of his birth, Brazil running circles around an over-awed and under-inspired side in a 3-0 romp, the Americans righting the ship and pounding Egypt, 3-0, and getting a matching result from the Brazilians in their match against Italy – the group stage alone would have made this an event to remember for the red, white and blue.

But the United States advanced to the semifinal through a heaping helping of good fortune and complex mathematics.

And the Americans took the proverbial quarter on the carpet, walked up to the slot machine and hit the jackpot with a 2-0 win over the top-ranked team in the world, Spain.

The payoff? A rematch with Brazil – which I guess you can say has both given and taken away to the United States in this tournament.

Of course, there was the romp in the second group stage game, but without that master class offensive effort from the Brazilians against the world champion Italians, our win over Egypt would have been reduced to a “hey, how ’bout that” footnote.

So, as my good friend Bryan Hanks asked me last night, what kind of chance do we have?

Frankly, I liked our chances much better against Spain.

But, if a few things go well, we could write a happy ending for this magic carpet ride we’re on…

1. Cash in on set pieces – It’s going to be tough to get run-outs like the ones that were there against Spain, but as dominant as Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit were in the air against the Spanish, corner kicks and free kicks into the box could become prime scoring opportunities.

2. Use the left wing – Kartik Krishnaiyer over at www.majorleaguesoccertalk.com had a piece on this and I couldn’t agree more. The Brazilians like to push foward. We need to punish them when they over-commit, and the weak spot is on the left. Andres Santos and Klebar are hardly household names. We need to test them.

3. Bring the lunch pail – Every ounce of the heart, every bit of the desire and all of the energy it took to keep Spain off the scoreboard will be required to slow down Brazil. It can be done, as South Africa’s effort against them the other day showed. The defense will need to be huge again, Tim Howard will need to be great again and for heaven’s sake CAN WE PLEASE AVOID ANY STUPID RED CARDS!!!

I had a hard time explaining to Bryan why Brazil is such a heavy favorite. Maybe it’s because they’re blessed with incredibly gifted players and a culture that fosters creativity and brilliant football.

But, when the first ball is kicked in anger later today, only one thing is certain.

The team that stays true to its identity – Brazil’s flair and style and the United States’ heart and hustle – will be the one lifting the cup.

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