The United States, proud reigning champions of the CONCACAF zone, arrived at the O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg today. After a marathon air journey nearing a full twenty hours, Team USA were in surprisingly high spirits upon touching down, and visibly keen to test themselves against the world's best at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.
"It's finally here," enthused France-based USA captain Carlos Bocanegra to FIFA.com. "We're really excited about this; we've been looking forward to it since we won the (CONCACAF) Gold Cup in 2007. It's a chance for us to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the world and that is always a good thing."
Bocanegra, a sturdy and uncompromising central defender, could not be more accurate in his assessment of the situation, and the quality of opponent the Americans are set to face. In their opener on 15 June in Pretoria, the stars and stripes take on no less than reigning world champions Italy and follow that up with games against South American royalty Brazil and African champions Egypt in Rustenburg.
"We're thrilled to be here," added head coach Bob Bradley, just days after a tense, come-from-behind weekend win in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying over Honduras. "It's not only a tremendous international tournament in its own right, but it's an opportunity to prepare for the fields, atmosphere and the culture of the 2010 World Cup."
It's already been a busy summer for the Americans. Having played two qualifiers in a space of four days last week, they return home after their South African jaunt with just enough time to prepare for the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup on home soil. "It really has been a busy period for us," Bocanegra said, wide eyes darting around the bustling airport as teammates Landon Donovan and Tim Howard shuffled past.
"If we can find a way to be more consistent and sort things out at the back, I think we're going to be in good shape," the current Rennes and former Fulham player said, seeming to measure the Americans' chances at the Confed.
Coach Bradley, for his part, was cautiously optimistic about his side's chances this June in South Africa. "You need to start things right, set the right rhythm in the first game. After you do that, you can focus on the next game. If you get things right, and in the right order, you give yourself a chance to be playing for something at the end of the tournament.
"That's what we want to be doing," the coach concluded with a smile.