JOHANNESBURG (AP) — If the underdog U.S. men’s team is going to win its first FIFA final by stunning another powerhouse, the Americans know they’ll need some tough defense to go with the energy they’re suddenly showing.

The United States, still elated with its 2-0 upset of European champion Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinal, have earned a rematch Sunday with Brazil. History — even recent history — says that’s not a good matchup for the Americans.

After losing to Italy to start this tournament, the Americans were dismissed 3-0 by Brazil in their next group play match. The U.S. bounced back with a 3-0 victory over Egypt, and squeaked past Italy into the semifinals on goals scored.

“I think the first time we played Brazil we came out a bit timid,” U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said Friday. “We almost gave them too much respect. We just went out there and sat back too much. We felt we needed to change something and the guys did a great job of coming out against Egypt with the energy from the start of the game, and I think that carried over to the Spain game.

“We tried to impose ourselves on them and make it tough for them rather than sitting back and absorbing all their pressure.”

The U.S. could look to South Africa’s performance against Brazil as a blueprint for success. While the hosts lost the other semifinal 1-0 Thursday to a late free kick from Daniel Alves, the Bafana Bafana made the Brazilians look ordinary for long stretches.


“I thought South Africa did a very good job in terms of at times frustrating Brazil,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. “They kept the distance between their backfield and midfield very tight so Robinho and Kaka started drifting away from those areas to try to find the ball.”

Complicating matters for the U.S. is that it will face the five-time World Cup champions without key midfielder Michael Bradley, who picked up a late red card against Spain. Benny Feilhaber will likely replace the coach’s son.

Feilhaber came on against Italy after Ricardo Clark received a red card, and he also played in a recent World Cup qualifier against Honduras.

“I think that’s probably the way we’ll go,” Bob Bradley said. “As always, you wait until the end to size up everything and make the final decision.”

Brazil’s speedy forwards could prompt the coach to switch from his usual 4-4-2 formation to a 4-5-1.

“Tactically, every game you have to weigh the different factors,” he said. “At times there’s a need to make a small tactical adjustment and it shouldn’t make a big change in the way we play.”


The central defense pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit will probably stay in place, with Bocanegra again starting at left back.

Bocanegra missed all three group games with a minor injury and DeMerit performed so well as a replacement that coach Bradley decided to fit both into the lineup against Spain.

“There’s always been a strong feeling that Jay is a competitor,” the coach said.

Bocanegra shut down Sergio Ramos against Spain and will again have a steep challenge with Brazil right back Maicon coming forward.

Maicon “is definitely one of their important players joining into the attack, but they have a few others that we’re going to have to watch out for as well,” Bocanegra said.

At 6 feet, 4 inches and 210 pounds, Onyewu has been the Americans’ standout defender.

“His presence in the center of our defense physically gives us strength against even the best forwards in the world,” the coach said, noting how Onyewu has contained the likes of Luca Toni, Luis Fabiano and Fernando Torres at this tournament.

Knowing how improbable their advance this far into the tournament has been, the Americans seem almost reluctant to talk about what could happen if their gameplan works.

“When you look around the world we all know the top countries that are there all the time,” coach Bradley said. “Then there are many more that are underneath and at any given point, if a group of players come together in the right way, if the form is right, if the mentality is right, occasionally there’s a little bit of luck and it gives those teams a chance, and we fight for that chance.”

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