At half-time of their first-ever FIFA final, USA were in the unlikely position of leading five-time FIFA World Cup™ winners Brazil by two clear goals at Ellis Park. There was a kind of hubris in their rampaging first-half performance, with Clint Dempsey flicking an elegant opener and the outstanding Landon Donovan doubling the lead after a devastating counter-attack shortly after.
In the end, though, normal service was resumed and the mighty A Seleção roared to life, scoring three times to seal their third FIFA Confederations Cup title with a thrilling 3-2 triumph. Although sadness was the general feeling in the Americans' camp at the final whistle, Donovan, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, painted a picture of a team that will be better off for the hard lessons learned on Sunday night in Johannesburg.
FIFA.com: It was a tough loss tonight. Can you talk a little bit about how you're feeling right now?
Landon Donovan: We're disappointed. At the end of the day there's a reason why Brazil are consistently considered one of the best teams in the world. But in the situation we were in, up 2-0 at the half, we felt that we should have been able to kill off the game. We can't be happy with having gone this far. If we want to get better we have to demand more of ourselves.
Were you surprised to find yourselves with such a commanding lead after 45 minutes considering the fact that you lost 3-0 when you met Brazil in the group stages?
We weren't surprised, no. We had a plan at the start that we didn't want to be timid. That was the problem in the first game; we came out and got into trouble early because we were too tentative. Clint [Dempsey] made a great play to start us off early with a goal, and then we had a chance to counter-attack a little later and we got another one. With a lead like that you have to be able to hang on, no matter who you're playing.
What changed in the second half?
The first goal right after the break killed us. It just took the air completely out of the balloon and after that I have to give them a lot of credit. They just kept coming and coming and putting more and more pressure on us. They took their chances and put a lot of bodies into the attack.
Is there anything you think you could have done differently as a team in the last 45 minutes?
I think we probably could have done a little better job of counter-attacking and keeping them unbalanced and on their toes with our movement forward. But they're a great team and they just didn't give us an inch.
Is there a natural impulse to drop off a bit and go into a defensive shell when you're up 2-0 in the second half?
Yeah, in some scenarios it makes sense. But I don't think we did that today. Even after they made it 2-1, we kept going forward and managed to create a few chances, but they had all the momentum at that point so it was tough for us to get a foothold.
Do you have any perspective at this point on what you've achieved for football in the United States of America with wins over Egypt and Spain and a first-ever appearance in the major world final?
Well, we've done better than we've ever done before at a competition like this, so I think we can all walk out of here with our heads held high. However, it's not good enough. Again, when you're up 2-0 in a final you need to be able to grab hold and make the game yours. So it's disappointing at the same time.
Do you think the USA national team took a next step here at the FIFA Confederations Cup?
Yes, I think we did take the next step. But we need to learn from what happened today. If we don't learn from it, then all this achievement will have been for nothing. Hopefully the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation we can kill the game off and hold the trophy over our heads instead of wearing silver around our necks.