Dirty Tackle - World Soccer

Bob Bradley

Associated Press

Finally a tale of good fortune for a United States team that so often returns home bemoaning its bad luck.

Somehow on Sunday night, a cluster of stars all aligned for Bob Bradley's team, as every improbable permutation needed for it to remain in the Confederations Cup slotted neatly into place during a 3-0 win over Egypt.

On countless occasions, the postscript for the USA has been a sob story. The under-23 squad felt it at the Beijing Olympics, when its inability to hold on for a few extra seconds against Holland cost it a trip to the knockout stage. World Cup campaigns also have been littered with misfortune, excuses and mishaps that prevented the U.S. from deeper progress.

Bradley could not have wished for a better time for fate to smile upon him. Bracing for a barrage of doubt and conjecture surrounding his future when he returned home, the head coach now can view this tuneup for South Africa 2010 as something of a success.

No one is pretending that the Confederations Cup is an event which resonates strongly through the soccer world. But it is far better to still be around and get a crack at a semifinal than an early exit, which looked all-but-guaranteed for the Americans heading into the weekend.

One win doesn't erase the memories of a series of sub-par performances that began in the last round of World Cup qualifiers. However, one of the biggest criticisms of Bradley was that he seemed unable to lift his players when the occasion demanded it.

Well, he sure did this time.

Gone were the nervousness and inferiority complex of the matches against Brazil and Italy. Suddenly, the USA had gained some courage, organization and spirit.

Now we will see once and for all if the Americans' panic only sets in against high-profile teams because no side in the world is better than Spain right now. With another stuttering, timid performance against the European champions on Wednesday, the U.S. will be back to square one.

But somewhere in the Egypt game lay some genuine reason for hope. There was a sense that this U.S. team might just possess a bit of gumption, which is one of the most vital commodities come World Cup time. Sure, this is not a side that is ready to start beating the world's best, but nor, perhaps, it is languishing in a backbone-free zone.

Italy and Egypt may wonder how they are the ones preparing to go through airport customs while the USA looks ahead to a final-four clash with the magnificent Spaniards. The Italians will be shell-shocked at losing two straight games, one an enormous upset against Egypt and the other a comprehensive shellacking by Brazil. The Egyptians, so entertaining throughout, fluffed their lines when it mattered and were virtually unrecognizable against the U.S. from the side that looked so lively and inspired in its first two games.

Do the Americans deserve their place in the semifinals? Based on their overall body of work at the Confederations Cup, probably not. Yet the character that was on display Sunday night -- a fierce determination to prove they were not as bad as everyone thought -- shone out of every player.

On this night, Bob Bradley got things right, very right. That, combined with a healthy dose of luck, means he is off the hook for now.

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