US lean on lessons learned
With zero points, only one goal scored and the old self doubts surely creeping into their minds, USA head into their third match of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 with the slimmest chance of moving on to the semi-finals. An emphatic win over Egypt, who beat Italy and are in sparkling form up to now, and a Brazilian victory over Italy in the other group match, just might be enough to see the Americans through.
But as FIFA.com found out, optimism is at a low ebb in the USA camp. Even so, two of the team's stars will not consider South Africa 2009 a total failure even if the likely happens and they head home after their final group game with the fancied Pharaohs.
"It's not over yet," Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard told FIFA.com, shuffling his feet and perhaps not quite believing it himself. "But it's going to take something really special to get through, and it's not entirely in our hands."
Landon Donovan, the team's all-time top scorer and one of precious few bright spots for an outmatched US team, is of similar mind. "Our hopes of getting through to the semi-finals are very slim at this point, we're aware of that," the Los Angeles Galaxy creator and deputising USA captain said. "We'll want to give ourselves every opportunity, get as many goals as we can and hope that things go our way. Soccer is a strange game and anything can happen, but we know it's not a probable outcome."
Even with the players and coach Bob Bradley putting on a brave face ahead of their meeting with the African champions, who have been delighting the crowds in South Africa, the overall feeling is one of looking forward and taking as much as they can from the lessons learned. "This tournament is a big lesson for us," Howard said.
"It can even be a called a success depending on how much we take from it. If we can find a way to take these experiences and roll them into a good run at the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer and the World Cup next year, it will all be worthwhile."
Donovan, who was given the captain's armband after an injury to Carlos Bocanegra, agreed: "This whole tournament is something we need to look at as a test run for next year, when hopefully we'll be at the World Cup here in South Africa.
"So even if we miss out on the semi-finals, which is likely at this point, we can take a lot from this competition. Next year maybe we'll start off with a loss or a draw, and we'll need to rebound from it. Hopefully this experience here will help us to do it."
Howard, who has had a busy tournament in the US net, conceding six goals and facing up to no fewer than 23 shots on target in the successive defeats by Italy and Brazil, also sees a silver lining on the horizon. "It's not every day you get to play Brazil and Italy, and we saw how good we need to be to beat teams like that. This is something we can take home and use, it can make us better," he said.
Facing a likely end to their adventure in South Africa, American optimism is dimmed but not extinguished. And no matter what the result is in the game with Egypt in Rustenburg, USA's campaign, as Howard intimates, could well still be considered a success.