(Saturday, July 7, 2007) -- The match was played at such a torrid pace for 94-plus minutes that spectators were left as exhausted as the players. And the United States men held off a desperate Brazilian team 2-1 to win Group D at the Under-20 World Cup, leaving Brazil in third place in not knowing until tomorrow whether it will advance to the Round of 16.
Brazil entered the match at Frank Clair Stadium in Ottawa knowing they had to win to be sure of advancing from group play and from the opening whistle it attacked relentlessly and pressured the ball all over the field. After the first 10 minutes or so, the U.S. settled in, withstood the pressure and managed to go win on a pair of goal by Jozy Altidore off great assists from Freddy Adu.
The story of the match, however, was at the other end of the field where goalkeeper Chris Seitz had a magnificent match, making 14 saves, including a number that took away sure goals. He was only beaten after stopping a point-blank shot by Jo and then, as he scrambled for the rebound, was slid into by both Leandro Lima and defender Tony Beltran. The ball trickled into the net and the three lay in a heap.
Seitz injured a leg in the collision, but continued to make plays for the rest of the match.
The U.S. defense was heroic all night, stopping thrust after thrust by Brazil. The American back-line allowed too much space at times, but did well given the quality of the opposition. Jo, for instance, is already a starter for CSKA Moscow and is rumored to be going to one of the big clubs in Italy or Spain before the transfer window closes next month.
Adu continues to play with newfound abandon. Despite close marking, he was able to create space for himself on a number of occasions and split two defenders brilliantly to feed Altidore for the winning goal.
"We all knew that Freddy was a talented kid and I felt that he was ready to wear the captain's armband and take on a leadership role with this team," U.S. coach Thomas Rongen. "I couldn't be happier with the way he has dealt with these circumstances. He had a superb performance against Poland and today, beyond his skill he always showed his desire, his heart. Great players succeed at the highest level and today was a great game for him, and he took the rest of the team with him today."
By winning Group D, clearly the "Group of Death" in this tournament (certainly fourth place South Korea, now of its way home, could have won several of the other groups), the U.S. has now stamped itself as a team that can go deep into the knockout rounds. It will not know until tomorrow who it will play in the Round of 16 in Toronto, whether it will be a third-place finisher in group B, E or F.
If the U.S. is to continue to advance, it will have to continue to play at the same level it has in its last two matches, not like it did in the opening 1-1 draw with South Korea.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz - 8: Had a simply amazing night, making 14 saves, even after he suffered a leg injury in the collision that resulted in the Brazilian goal.
Defender Athony Wallace - 6: Continues to pick up his game. Matched the pace of the fleet Brazilians he faced. Was rarely rounded and was still able to push forward.
Defender Nathan Sturgis - 6.5: Took on two of the best young forwards in the world in Jo and Alexandre Pato and did not give an inch, making stop after stop in what became a physical confrontation for the center of defense.
Defender Ofori Sarkodie - 6.5: Took advantage of his pace to also stop Brazil's top strikers.
Defender Tony Beltran - 5.5: Made a few errors, but had his hands full with Leandro Lima and responded well. Was able to pushed forward when needed. He's still learning.
Midfielder Danny Szetela - 6.0: Was forced into a more defensive role as the Brazilians constantly attacked. Was instrumental in a number of key defensive stops. A solid match.
Midfielder Robbie Rogers - 6.5: A threat down the wing all evening. Was up against very experienced and very fleet defenders, but got the better of them on a number of occasions.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 8: Was a thorn in the side of Brazil all night. Although marked at times by three Brazilians, he was able to create space and worked very well with Altidore to provide the service on both goals. On a pace to become the "Most Valuable Player" of the tournament.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: The Brazilian pressure forced him to play defense 90 percent of the night and he did well. He was not able to contribute much to the offense.
Forward Josmer Altidore - 8: Was marked by Marcelo, who is expected to play for Real Madrid's first team next season, and Amaral who likely will start for Sao Paulo power Palmeiras. Still, he managed to score twice and get himself in good position to score several other times. Tonight was an indication why he might an asset in the U.S. World Cup effort in 2010..
Forward Sal Zizzo - 6.0: Continues to play very well under the most difficult circumstances. Played a fine two-way game, pressuring down the wing while he was also able to get back and play defense.
Defender Amaechi Igwe (82nd minute for Rogers) 5.5: Added fresh legs at a key time and made several good defensive stops as he helped kill off the match.
Defender Tim Ward (89th minute for Beltran) - 5.5: His fresh legs help stiffle Brazil as it desperately tried to tie.
Midfielder Dax McCarty (92nd minute for Altidore) 6.5: Made two key defensive stops.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Chris Seitz
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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