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Believe It! U.S. Beats Brazil In Soccer

Times sure have changed in soccer.

United States 1, Brazil 0.

Until Tuesday night, the notion of the Americans beating the world's superpower was folly.

"A defeat to be ashamed of," read a headline Wednesday in the Rio daily O Globo.

"Nightmare in the wee hours," blared the sporting daily Lance, referring to the game's 2 a.m. starting time in Brazil. "What nobody believed could happen, happened."

The United States had been 0-8 against Brazil before Tuesday night's victory in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the biennial championship of soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region.

"It states we can play with anyone in the world, and on occasion, beat the best in the world," U.S. coach Steve Sampson said. "I think a lot of people are going to pay a lot more respect to the United States. ... We've made enormous strides. Is it like winning a Super Bowl? No, not yet. It's just not that way in this country. But we hope the sport will continue to grow."

The four-time World Cup champions knocked the Americans out of the 1994 World Cup with a 1-0 victory in the second round and hadn't allowed a goal to the United States since 1930. The eight prior games included a 10-0 rout in 1963.

Not that the rest of the world had done much better. Since winning the 1994 World Cup at the Rose Bowl in nearby Pasadena, Brazil had been 46-2-10.

But Preki Radosavljevic scored on a booming left-footed shot from about 23 yards out 10 minutes into the second half, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller made half a dozen outstanding saves, stopping 1994 World Cup MVP Romario four times in the first half alone.

Not bad for a country that spent decades as a soccer doormat. The United States didn't even qualify for the World Cup - soccer's top event - from 1950 to 1990.

"It's a tremendous occasion for U.S. soccer, and it helps give us a lot of respect coming into the World Cup," said Keller, who in all stopped six shots by Romario, including two on breakaways.

It wasn't Brazil's best lineup - about half the regular starters were missing, including Ronaldo, the two-time FIFA world player of the year. But, as former U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic says, "Brazil is Brazil."

"If we had played like this with our main team, then I would be hanging my head," said Brazil coach Mario Zagallo, who no doubt will receive harsh criticism in coming weeks. "As it is, I'm not worried."

Keller had just arrived from England, where he plays for Leicester in the Premier League, and was coming off shutouts of Manchester United and Liverpool, among Europe's most prestigious clubs.

"I think it has to rate as the single greatest performance by a goalkeeper in the history of U.S. soccer, certainly since I've been with the national team," said Sampson, who joined as an assistant coach in 1993.

When Keller, who grew up on an egg farm in Lacey, Wash., made one save of a Romario sot from point-blank range, the Brazilian forward shook his head in disbelief.

"We definitely had a little luck," Keller said. "They weren't the strongest that we've seen them, but that doesn't take away from our performance."

Radosavljevic, a native of Yugoslavia who honed his skills in American indoor soccer, was Major League Soccer's MVP last season and had scored against Costa Rica on Saturday to put the U.S. team in the semifinals.

Five minutes after entering the game as a substitute early in the second half, Radosavljevic took a perfect pass from Eric Wynalda just outside the penalty area, faked right, slid to his left, did a stutter step and one-timed the ball just inside the near post. Goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel had no chance.

The United States has won six straight games for the first time. The Americans tied their record unbeaten streak at nine and can break it Sunday against Mexico or Jamaica in the Gold Cup final.

But even if the Americans don't win the title, they gained immeasurable confidence as they prepare for this summer's World Cup in France, where they open against European champion Germany on June 15.

Tuesday night's win ranks among the best for the United States, just behind the 1-0 upset of England in the 1950 World Cup and alongside a 2-1 victory over Columbia in the '94 World Cup and a 2-1 win over England in the U.S. Cup '93 tournament.

"It's an historic moment for the U.S., and we all recognize this," Sampson said. "But these guys want more - they want a championship on Sunday."

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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