BLOEMFONTEIN, June 25 – The United States stunned Spain 2-0 on Wednesday to book a place in the Confederations Cup final and end the European champions record-breaking win streak.
A first half strike from Villarreal’s Jozy Altidore and another 16 minutes from time by Fulham’s Clint Dempsey did the damage in what will go down as one of the biggest victories in US football history.
They also had a flawless performance by Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and a commendable defensive display to thank for earning them a shot at the trophy on Sunday against Brazil or hosts South Africa.
Their only black mark was having Michael Bradley – son of coach Bob – sent off for a lunging tackle with four minutes left, meaning he will miss the final.
"For us it’s a big night," said Bradley senior.
"The players have all worked hard. We constantly talk about reaching higher and we did that.
"Spain are a super team who we have great respect for. We knew it would be a challenge but we felt we had a chance and could win. There was a real confidence."
It was a remarkable upset on a freezing night that not only ended Spain’s record of 15 consecutive wins but also prevented them from surpassing Brazil’s 35-match unbeaten run.
Spain will have to be content with going into the history books level with the South Americans after their first loss since November 15, 2006.
"We faced a team that played with good energy, was good in attack and was fast. We were surprised. The entire team was very dangerous for us," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.
"We are in the world of sport and it was a strong rival and I cannot be unhappy with the effort made by the team. We did everything we could."
After resting several players for their last match against South Africa, they were back at full strength with Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Joan Capdevila and Xabi Alonso returning to action.
The United States welcomed back captain and ex-Fulham player Carlos Bocanegra while Howard returned to goal.
Spain had won all three previous encounters but the United States’ miracle run to the last four, qualifying on goals scored after finishing level with Italy on goal difference, showed they could not be understimated.
Spain had the first chance of the match but the US weren’t sitting back and Charlie Davies sent a spectacular bicycle kick flashing just wide.
With Dempsey firing a long range drive close soon after it was clear they meant business.
At the other end Cesc Fabregas sent a cross in from the left which Fernando Torres volleyed just past the post.
They combined superbly again shortly after with the Liverpool striker forcing a fine one-handed save from his Merseyside rival Howard.
But in a major shock the US took the lead on 27 minutes when the powerful Altidore muscled past Capdevila and Carles Puyol with Casillas unable to prevent his shot finding the back of the net.
It was only the third goal Spain had conceded in 16 games.
Spain were in trouble but bounced back with a hatful of chances with Torres and Ramos in the thick of the action only for heroic defending to deny them.
They went to the break losing 1-0 and in need of something special.
David Villa almost provided it soon after the restart when he let rip from just inside the box but Howard turned it round the post.
They threw all they had at the Americans but Bocanegra and his defensive partners held firm and against the run of play they scored a second.
LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan sent a cross in from the right and errors by Gerald Pique and Ramos allowed Dempsey to hustle the ball over the line for a famous victory.
Brazil and South Africa play their semi-final on Thursday.