'The United States caused one of the biggest upsets in world football by beating European champions Spain in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup'
The two nil victory is probably the most impressive result the States have had in the world's most popular game since the one nil victory over England in 1950. Just as then, the US beat a pre-eminent force within the game. Spain's short passing game had savaged some of the best sides in the world and with victory over the Americans would have beaten the international record for going undefeated and consecutive wins. Spain up until this point had been firm favourites for the 2010 World Cup and, with players like Villa, Torres, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, Fabregas, Puyot, Ramos and the peerless Casillas, had a fearsome strength in depth.
Whilst some might argue that is only the Confederations Cup (for those un-initiated into the labyrinthine world of FIFA competitions, a money making hook up, feeding off the base international tournaments), the possibility for Spain to break such records should have easily been ample motivation. Thus to the United States Football Team, well done Sirs. And for citizens of the (other) Great Republic, please show your appreciation to one of the foremost sporting achievement of your recent past.
The victory over England in 1950 was an even greater upset. The English, who had up until that point distained the World Cup as some foreign innovation, were the 'Kings of Football'. Their record since the resumption of full internationals in 1945 was impressive. With only 4 losses and 3 draws in thirty games, England came to Brazil and their first World Cup as 3-1 favourites. The USA's odd were 500-1. Whilst the English side included some of leading players in the world and legendary figures such as Alf Ramsey, Billy Wright, Wilf Mannion, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen, the American team was made up of virtulally unknown part-timers. The US were battered in the first half but came away with a one-nil lead thanks to Joe Gaetjens throwing himself at the ball and putting it past Bert Williams in the 37th minute. Despite a penalty appeal, the English failed to score in the second half and so was born one of the biggest shocks in international sports.
For the English, the shock was dealt with by quasi-denial. There is a folk tale that English sport journalists at first presumed the wire services had made a clerical mistake and the result was actually 10-0 to England. After the defeat, voices were raised that the US team consisted of 'imported talent' and thus defeat came through underhand means. Such hubris was demonstrated in the arrangements that meant Stanley Mathews, the foremost English player of the post war period, had been touring Canada with another group of England players before Brazil and only arrived in time to sit and watch the game. Defeat to Spain in the next game and exit from the competition was taken, not as a sign that English Football was sliding into obsolescence, but as proof of the 'questionable' nature of international tournaments over the test system.
Such Mrs Havisham like arrogance was not finally dismissed till the 1953 massacre by the great Hungarian side of Puskas and Hidegkuti at Wembley. The 1950 defeat had been a clear marker that not only was the traditional tactics of England dying, but to prosper in the new age of world cups and rising powers like Brazil, Spain, the USSR, Hungary and Italy, a new professionalism was needed in organisation and management. The English right back that night in Belo Horizonte, a veteran of the epoch marking defeat in 1953 as well as the 'Miracle on Grass', was to take these lessons and create England's only world conquering team of the modern age; Alf Ramsey.
For the US, the victory did not herald the sport's triumphant march in the Nation's consciousness. Football 's organisation and structures remained stunted despite the heroic efforts of the national team and its rising popularity. While the seventies and early eighties brought the unsustainable spending and glamour of the NASL, Football was consigned to be the sport of immigrants and girls. One hopes that the brilliant efforts of today's team might make it a truly national sport.
The goal scorer that night back in 1953, Joe Gaetjens, was Haitian born, having gone to New York to study. Although he had declared his intention to become an American citizen, he never did so. After a brief stay in France, where he played for Troyes, he returned to Haiti. As it was common to be able to play for multiple national sides then, he went on to play for Haiti in a 1953 qualifier against Mexico. Becoming a businessman and a supporter of local football, he disappeared in 1964, taken by the Tontons macoutes acting under François Duvalier. He, like thousands of others, was presumed killed.