JOHANNESBURG -- For 45 minutes, it was no contest. United States goalkeeper Tim Howard was outplaying Brazil's Julio Cesar, considered by many to be among the world's best.
Then the second half started, and the United States' 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 loss in Sunday's Confederations Cup final.
Howard was brilliant in the first half, but Brazil's powerful offense staged a relentless assault on Howard for the entire second half, capping the comeback with Lucio's game-winning goal in the 84th minute.
"I felt like I was on a lot of the game," Howard said. "They created a lot of chances and eventually the dam broke. I can't get my big behind in the way of everything, unfortunately.
"It's amazing how off-balance they put you. You have no idea what they're going to do until they do it, then you react. That's why they are who they are. All of their players are world-class."
Still, Howard beat out the likes of Julio Cesar, Spain's Iker Casillas and Italy's Gianluigi Buffon for the tournament's best goalkeeper award. He attributed that to the Americans' opponents -- Brazil (twice), Spain, Italy and Egypt.
"It was always going to be tough, and I think that may be why I got the goalkeeper trophy," he said. "We faced a lot of shots and a lot of pressure. I think if you look at the run that we had, nobody had a tougher challenge all the way through."
But few gave a better effort than Howard. He was not responsible for any of Brazil's goals, and he made five saves to Julio Cesar's zero in the first half.
Howard stretched out his 6-foot-3 frame to push a shot wide from Brazil's speediest striker, Robinho, in the 13th minute. In the 35th, the New Jersey native saved a dangerous effort from Andre Santos, then deflected another shot from Robinho in the 41st.
But the five-time world champions' class was evident as soon as the second half began. Not even a minute in, Luis Fabiano beat Howard.
Howard managed to keep the Americans ahead, intercepting a dangerous cross from Maicon and stopping a header from defender Lucio in the 58th. He also put up his hands to block a header from Kaka in the 60th, sending the ball rattling off the crossbar, though Brazil clearly thought the ball had gone in.
"I didn't think so. I haven't see the replay, but from my feeling, from where I touched it anyway, it didn't feel like it," Howard said. "Honestly, I don't know."
Howard smothered one more shot from Fabiano in the 71st, but the striker notched his second goal three minutes later to even the score at 2-2.
"Obviously Tim was a big factor in this tournament," United States defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "On any team he plays for, he's a great addition. He had a great season with Everton. He's always been playing great with the national team, so I have nothing bad to say about Tim."
Clint Dempsey lost sight of Lucio in the 84th and the defender headed home the winner.
As Brazil jumped for joy at the final whistle, Howard stood with his hands on his knees and watched with envy.
"I think we gave them everything they could handle. You saw that in their sheer joy for coming from behind, so that obviously meant something," Howard said. "This one hurts more than most. As a goalkeeper you try to save as many shots as you can and hope that at the end of the night it adds up, and tonight it didn't."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press