For a country that calls the beautiful game ‘soccer’ and for people who had no credible domestic league or international team till recently, team USA have come a long way. Bruce Arena, their coach, cites the 94 World Cup as a turning point in the spread of the game in a country obsessed with basketball, baseball and football (American).
But the real surprise would have been USA’s strong showing in the 2002 World Cup, where they advanced to the quarter finals before being beaten by Germany. That, coupled with a strong focus towards using the domestic competition as a platform to build their national team has seen USA advance to joint 5th place in the May 2006 Fifa rankings. They will meet a determined Czech Republic ready to make their mark on the World Cup despite showing poor form recently, and it promises to be a fantastic matchup.
This match may very well determine who goes to the second round with Italy. The Czechs are favorites but USA is well-placed to cause an upset.
Other matches today see Italy take on Ghana and Hiddink’s Australia take on Japan in Group F. While I’ve plumped for Croatia to accompany Brazil out of the group (see group schedules), Either of these two can go forward as well. Australia are a bit like USA when it comes to football – they play quality football and know how to defend well – and will fancy their chances against Japan. Australia vs Japan promises to be the most even matchup today, and given the history of unfancied teams making it far in the World Cup it could be either of these two (or USA) who manage to progress forward and cause a few upsets. We’ll know more after watching them in action today.
Italy – not much that can be said about them except that they have a very balanced squad, with Luca Toni and Gilardino leading the front line and Totti (back from breaking his leg in February) playing just behind them. Ghana have Essien to help them control Italy’s midfield, but the Italians will look to secure the points first and play football later, so you might well see a repeat of Portugal vs Angola here.
I’ll be back after the matches to tell you how they went.