JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - The United States' roller coaster Confederations Cup ride may have come to an end here on Sunday with defeat to Brazil but Bob Bradley's men leave South Africa with their stock having risen sharply.
In the week that America lost its 'King of Pop' - Michael Jackson - the Stars and Stripes have given the country something to cheer about with their first ever appearance in a major final.
Yet their 3-2 defeat left Landon Donovan, the scorer of the second goal, with mixed feelings.
The US's all time top marker told AFP: "We're proud but disappointed.
"We put so much into getting the lead but Brazil are never going to lie down and let you win the game and at the end it was just too much.
"We can take a lot of positives from our time here but also some negatives - we need to learn from today - if we get in a similar position next year (at the World Cup) we need to know how to finish it off."
The CONCACAF Gold Cup winners had gotten off to a wretched start with lopsided losses compounded by two successive red cards against the Brazilians and world champions Italy and looked destined for an early trip home.
Then they produced miracle number one - a crushing 3-0 victory over African champions Egypt which lifted them into the semi-finals on goal difference.
Gone was the hesitancy of their first two games and in its place Bradley produced a tenacious well coordinated aggressive unit that floored the Pharaohs.
With rising confidence they then approached Euro 2008 winners Spain looking for miracle number two.
And remarkably Donovan, Clint Dempsey and colleagues pulled it off with a little help from a flawless effort from Everton keeper Tim Howard.
Villarreal's teenage striker Jozy Altidore got the ball rolling against Vicente del Bosque's record breakers with Dempsey sealing a historic victory that was in large part down to Bradley's brilliant tactics centring on closing down Spain dangerman Xavi.
The only sour note from that game in Bloemfontain was the sending off, the States' third of the tournament, in the 86th minute of influential midfielder Michael Bradley, the coach's son.
"It's like having your heart ripped out" was how Bradley senior described his son's enforced absence from a final that he had done so much to secure.
Miracle number three may have proved beyond them but only narrowly after Dempsey and Donovan gave them a two goal lead only for Brazil to prevail with three second half goals.
For two of the US team playing on African soil was a little like being on home turf as teammates Oguchi Onyewu and Freddy Adu have strong links with the continent.
Standard Liege defender Onyewu, nicknamed 'Gooch', was born in Washington of Nigerian parents while Adu left Ghana at the age of eight after his family won the green card lottery.
The States' buoyant showing in this World Cup warm-up has produced three interesting spin-offs.
The first and potentially most crucial is that should they qualify for the World Cup which looks highly probable FIFA could bump up their seeding before the World Cup draw in Cape Town on December 4.
Their success has also sparked renewed interest in 'soccer' in a country where it has to compete with basketball and baseball.
And last but not least the Yanks have won the hearts and minds of the public with their never say die spirit and polished technique.
The South African public have really fallen for them, something that was a pleasant surprise for Donovan.
"I think we've shown a spirit and competitiveness that people love and find infectious," said the Los Angeles Galaxy playmaker.
|Coach: B. Bradley|
for J. Altidore 75'
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