A truly historic day for US international sport, though I suspect that State-side it got a lot less play than it did over here in Roma (or elsewhere in the soccer-mad world): USA 2, Spain 0 in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup down in Bloemfoentein, South Africa. The Confederations Cup is not one of the “big” tournaments, to be fair; it’s held every four years, the year before the World Cup, and brings together the champions of various tournaments in each of the different FIFA “Confederations” — Europe (Spain, the winner of the European Cup in 2008), Italy (World Cup, 2006), Brazil (Copa America), Egypt (African Cup of Nations), Iraq (Asian Cup), etc. This year, it is being held down in South Africa, site of next year’s World Cup, as sort of a dry run for the logistics and planning that South Africa will need to have in place before the world descends next summer.
The US, as usual, was not expected to fare terribly well — they looked uninspired in losing 3-1 to Italy and 3-0 to Brazil in the first round, and only got to advance to the second round because the Italians thoroughly embarrassed themselves in losing to both Egypt and Brasil without so much as scoring a single goal (or, to be honest, even coming close to scoring a goal). And against Spain we were supposed to roll over and die. Spain has become the capital of world soccer on many fronts — Barcelona just won the Champions League, the most prestigious of the “club” tournaments in the world, the Spanish national team won last year’s Euro Championship (quite handily), and they are being touted as favorites to win next year’s World Cup. They had, until Wednesday night, managed to put together a mind-boggling 35 game undefeated streak — unheard of in international soccer. The Italian press was full of somewhat grudging, but ultimately effusive, praise for their style of play and the depth of their squad — and for the Americans to handle them as easily as they did took the world of soccer (aka “the rest of the world”) totally by surprise. Here’s what la Repubblica, the newspaper I read here in Rome, had to say about the game:
“Ci sarebbe da cambiare pari-pari la nostra difesa azzurra con quella americana. L’arte di difendersi ha attraversato l’oceano.”
“We should exchange our (italian) defense for the Americans’. The art of defending has crossed the ocean.”
Let me tell you, that is high praise indeed – the Italians have long prided themselves on their defensive abilities (they call their style of play “Il catenaccio — the chain link fence), and for an italian paper to say they’d exchange their defense for ours is truly a remarkable moment.
And later on:
“Gli americani avevano cominciato con la mano sul cuore e il volto rivolto verso la bandiera a stelle e strisce. Hanno finito in un tripudio di gioia, con l’intera panchina che e’ corsa ad abbracciare gli eroi di Bloemfontein e con la curva nera — ormai impazzito per gli americani — che suonava a tutto spiano le sue vuvuzelas in loro onore.”
“The Americans began with hand on heart, their faces turned to the stars and stripes. They finished in an eruption of joy, with the entire bench running to embrace the heroes of Bloemfontein, and the African fans — by now, crazy about the Americans — singing, in unison, their “vuvuzelas” (???) in their honor.”
It’s a little over-the-top, as Italian journalism tends to be, and I haven’t the faintest idea what “vuvuzelas” are … but for an American soccer fan, it was nice a nice thing to stumble upon in the paper early in the morning, sitting in my neighborhood cafe and drinking my morning espresso …