x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

How the USA tamed Spain

The USA's remarkable victory over Spain has international managers all over the world clamouring to analyse the tactical template used by coach Bob Bradley.

The USA goalkeeper Tim Howard hangs on to the ball as the Spanish striker Fernando Torres challenges during the Confederations Cup semi-final in Bloemfontein.
The USA goalkeeper Tim Howard hangs on to the ball as the Spanish striker Fernando Torres challenges during the Confederations Cup semi-final in Bloemfontein.

BLOEMFONTEIN// The USA's remarkable victory over Spain in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup has not only sparked celebrations in the American camp but seen international managers all over the world clamour to analyse the tactical template used by coach Bob Bradley. The 2-0 victory in Bloemfontein, thanks to goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, was the first time European champions Spain had lost in 36 matches, and the question now being asked is: have the USA stumbled on a formula to beat Vincente Del Bosque's side or was this just a statistical blip?

The prospect of the world's great coaches queuing at his door for advice will probably amuse Bradley, who faced accusations of tactical ineptitude - and calls for him to quit - following his team's group stage defeats against Italy and Brazil. But the system he used against a team rated as favourites for next year's World Cup created one of the biggest upsets of the year and instigated possibly the greatest American victory since beating England in the World Cup of 1950, a match dubbed at the time the "Miracle on Grass".

Beating Spain is no miracle, although given no one had done so since Romania in Nov 2006 it was beginning to feel that way, but it is only right the US should enjoy the plaudits today following a brave and disciplined display. The key aspects of Bradley's system were two narrow banks of four at the back, effectively blocking off the centre of the field and forcing Spain out wide, combined with two strikers up front - something no other coach has been brave enough to do in this tournament.

In addition the USA were able to stifle Spain's "Plan B" by using Dempsey to track back on Albert Riera and prevent the Liverpool winger from getting in the kind of crosses that have made him such an important part of his team's unbeaten run. With Cesc Fabregas on the other side of midfield - a player who will always prefer to cut inside - the Americans were able to contain Spain's formidable attack and rely on their athleticism to keep them at bay.

"We were tight defensively and we forced them to play the ball wide, particularly more to the left," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "We just said: 'right, we're going to deal with as many crosses as you can swing in because we believe we're better at clearing these balls'. "It was a great victory, right up there with our best ever. It was against the number one team in the world in the semi-final of a major tournament and they were on a 35-match winning streak. Now we are looking forward to the final."

It will be interesting to see if Spain's World Cup rivals learn anything from the USA performance, although it is fair to say the Spanish still created a string of chances and if it had not been for four fine saves from Howard and countless defensive blocks the result could have been different. "We were just unlucky in front of goal and I think they had two or three chances and scored two goals," said Fabregas. "It's not about tactics. We have always been playing like that and not lost in 35 games. We had the ball all the time, we created chances and we played our game. But sometimes the ball doesn't go in.

"We knew one day it was going to happen because for sure we're human. But there is great personality in this team so we will stand up and fight to come back." sports@thenational.ae