USA coach Bob Bradley, criticised early on at the FIFA Confederations Cup after two straight losses and six conceded goals, was riding a wave of praise after his last game out, and second on the trot. Pressurising Spain early in an eventual 2-0 semi-final win, his significant tactical acumen was on display for all to see. But, as FIFA.com found out in an exclusive interview, Bradley expects a totally different game when his young, eager Americans take on superpowers Brazil on Sunday in their first-ever global final.
"The Brazilians are a different challenge than Spain," the former Chicago Fire, New York MetroStars and Chivas USA coach told FIFA.com on the eve of the final in Johannesburg. "It's not easy or instructive to compare the two. Spain, with their passing ability and the way they find seams and dictate play, are the best in the world. Brazil are a special team too, though, able to come from deeper positions. Their understanding is incredible and they can combine devastatingly with speed over long distances."
Bradley and his men found out, the hard way, just how fast Brazil can be over long distances and just how unforgiving they can be when presented with opposition errors. The 3-0 loss the Americans suffered in Pretoria in the first round was a lesson, and the no-nonsense Bradley is eager not to make the same mistakes twice.
"We weren't pleased with the way we started when we met Brazil in the first round," the coach said, referring to the tentative start in which they conceded from a set-piece inside seven minutes. "We started slowly and you just can't do that against Brazil."
A second mistake, when DaMarcus Beasley misplayed an offensive corner-kick, brought with it a lightning counter-attack that began with Kaka and was eventually finished by Robinho. "We weren't shocked by the speed of their response to that mistake," added Bradley, a former USA U-23 coach. "They did the same thing to Italy when they played. When you make a mistake against Brazil, you are going to be punished no matter who you are. They move with such pace. We respect that, but we have learned some lessons from that first game."
Smart start needed
Critical mistakes are something Bradley acknowledges can not always be controlled, but he is eager to come out with a different spirit and more energy this time out. "We need to step on the field and play our game, an aggressive, smart game with energy and speed. We did that after our first two losses and we beat Egypt and Spain when we came out right."
Bradley will be without one of his top players, his son Michael, as the holding midfielder was sent off with two minutes to go against Spain for a reckless lunge. Even though he admits that the situation is not ideal, Bradley senior, who has seen three of his charges ejected from games here in South Africa, believes in the collective ability of his team to rise above the setback.
"You have to make adjustments, you have to adapt," he said. "Big games, like the one tomorrow, are when players get the chance to step up and make a difference. And it's not only the players you expect. In our team everyone is important. I am confident that the man who takes Michael's place will perform in the way we expect, and fight hard for the cause."
He stops short of talking about revenge for the earlier loss, but Bradley is obviously keen to set the record straight this time out. "We have another chance to play Brazil, and to step on the field and play the game we know we can play. Second chances are rare, but we have one tomorrow."