Alves scored the only goal on a free kick with just two minutes left at the Confederations Cup on Thursday, sending Brazil into the final against the surprising United States and ending host South Africa’s upset bid.
The Americans stunned Spain 2-0 Wednesday in the other semifinal, handing the top-ranked team its first loss since November 2006.
Sunday’s final at Ellis Park will be a rematch of last week’s game in group play, when the five-time World Cup champions crushed the Americans. Brazil is 13-1 in head-to-head meetings with the United States, and has outscored the United States 26-8.
The lone American victory was a 1-0 upset at the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“Brazil, we know well because they beat us pretty badly a week ago,” Landon Donovan said after the U.S. beat Spain. “They would probably be comfortable playing against us, but I think we’re in a better place now.”
Brazil was a heavy favorite against South Africa. Spurred on by the deafening buzz of their delighted fans’ vuvuzelas, though, Bafana Bafana unsettled Brazil with a frantic, hustling game of quick challenges and tight defense.
As the game wore on and the raucous home crowd sensed another upset in the making, the whistles and cheers grew even louder.
Brazil, normally so smooth and fluid, looked short of ideas and labored in its efforts to find an opening. Just four days after routing reigning World Cup champion Italy 3-0, the ball inexplicably seemed to get stuck under the players’ feet.
With central defender Matthew Booth snuffing out almost every attempted attack from the wayward Luis Fabiano and ineffective Robinho, Brazil’s best chances had been shots from Ramires, Andre Santos and Kaka that goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune easily saved. Only Kaka seemed able to direct his passes with any regular accuracy as Bafana Bafana matched their illustrious opponents in skill and surpassed them in effort.
“We knew Brazil would have a lot of possession and we had to get players behind the ball,” Booth said. “But we had a go at them.”
After Ramires was tripped up by South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena, sending him tumbling to the ground, Alves bailed out Brazil.
On the field only six minutes, he stepped up and curled a shot into the far top corner, prompting celebrations by the Brazilians and almost silencing the raucous home crowd.
“The game was very close so I put on a very quick player, a very aggressive player, who is strong on set pieces,” Brazil coach Dunga said. “It was one of the few opportunities we were going to have. The foul was right in front of the goal area, so it was perfect for us.”
Despite the loss, the South Africans can take pride in this effort. Bafana Bafana outplayed Brazil, matched their opponents’ 12 shots on goal and showed their fans they can be something of a force when they host next year’s World Cup.
South Africa displayed far more purpose and skill than in its first-round group, where it progressed with a 0-0 draw with Iraq and 2-0 win over lowly New Zealand.
Teko Modise put three disappointing games behind him and came close to securing a famous win when his 58th-minute shot deflected off defender Luisao and almost beat goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
“Maybe with a year’s preparation, we can win a game like this against Brazil,” South Africa coach Joel Santana said. “You cannot make these mistakes.”