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Napoli ready to end 28-year title drought

Serie A
By ESPN Staff

Ronaldinho inspires Brazil to 4-2 win over U.S.

CHICAGO -- Ronaldinho split the defense time and again with the precision of laser surgery, lofting a corner kick to the far post for Brazil's second goal and then finishing off the United States when he spun a free kick over a defensive wall and inside the far post.

Buzzing like bees on the U.S. side of the field in their yellow shirts, Brazil was too much -- way too much -- for the United States to keep up with.

The five-time World Cup champions overcame a tentative start, shimmying and weaving around defenders to beat the United States 4-2 in an exhibition game Sunday.

"I was actually proud of how we played," Landon Donovan said. "We're not by any standard an experienced team like they are. For us, we're still learning."

The Americans had their moments and entertained a crowd of 43,543 at Solider Field by taking an early lead and coming back to tie. But the United States dropped to 1-12 against Brazil and lost its fifth straight game overall, its longest skid in 13 years.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley pointed to the ceiling when asked about the level of Brazil, the world's top-ranked team and inventors of jogo bonito -- the beautiful game. The Americans, ranked 17th, don't have stars anywhere near the caliber of Ronaldinho, a two-time FIFA player of the year, or Kaka, who could be voted the award this year.

How long will it take for the United States to catch up?

"The $64 billion question," Bradley said. "There's no simple way to produce those players. They're special. It's nice when we see some of our players at different levels show an occasional piece of skill that's in that category."

The Americans are a regional power, winning the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean for the second straight time. They started 10-0-1 under Bradley, playing all those games at home. But since then, facing better teams such as Argentina, Sweden and Brazil, the gap between American soccer and the rest of the world has been exposed.

Nine months before the start of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, it's a team in transition, somewhere between the group that advanced to the 2002 quarterfinals and the one that was eliminated in the first round at Germany last year.

"We're competing better against the top teams in the world," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said.

Bocanegra put the United States ahead in the 22nd minute when Donovan's corner kick bounced off his chest and into the net. But Brazil tied it in the 33rd as Ronaldinho fed Kaka for a shot that goalkeeper Tim Howard parried, but it ricocheted off defender Oguchi Onyewu and into the goal.

Twenty minutes later, Ronaldinho expertly lofted a corner kick that Lucio headed for a goal to make it 2-1. Then, shockingly, Clint Dempsey tied the score in the 73rd when he one-timed a pass from Steve Cherundolo past goalkeeper Doni.

Upset in the making?

Not a chance.

Ronaldinho's 20-yard free kick just two minutes later wasn't even seen by Howard, who dislocated a finger on the play but stayed in. Elano added a penalty kick in injury time after Michael Bradley pulled down Julio Baptista.

Ronaldinho's free kick came after Bocanegra was called for a foul on Daniel Alves by Mexican referee Armando Archundia.

"I thought Danny Alves just fell down," Bob Bradley said.

Ronaldinho's kick went over the heads of two Brazilians and U.S. midfielder Bobby Convey, who appeared to move.

"I purposely picked the left side of the post because I knew there were two Brazilians players at the end of the wall, and I knew the goalkeeper would not be able to see the ball," Ronaldinho said.

The United States had lots of chances. Heath Pearce was denied by Doni on a blistering 25-yard shot in the 68th, and Josh Wolff screamed afterward when he was pulled down bu Edu Dracena and there wasn't a call.

In a pair of games four years ago, Brazil outshot the Americans by a combined 29-13. This time the United States outshot the Brazilians 11-9. Ten of the 11 American starters -- Donovan was the exception -- are with European clubs, and Brazil coach Dunga thought it showed.

"The progress of the American players is very good," he said. "When a player plays in Europe, it changes the way they think and perform."

Americans marveled at the way Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho and Afonso weaved in the offensive zone.

"It's a little bit like the shell game, where they just keep moving things around," Bob Bradley said. "They wait for you to go for the wrong shell, and then they run through."