Joan and Jozy's friendly rivalry
What do a 31-year-old Spanish left-back and a 19-year-old American striker have in common? Not a great deal, you might say, but you would be forgetting the case of Villarreal players Joan Capdevila and Jozy Altidore, club-mates since the latter boarded the Yellow Submarine in the Summer of 2008. But despite being the first player from the United States to score a goal in Spain's top flight, a lack of playing time led to Altidore being loaned out for the second half of 2008/09 to second-tier outfit Xerez.
The contrasting pair are now set to meet up again this 24 June in Mangaung/Bloemfontein, with Capdevila's Spain preparing to face Altidore's USA in the first semi-final of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. And having formed a firm friendship during the early months of the American's stay at Villarreal, there has been plenty of banter flying in the last few days - mainly taking the form of jokey text messages. "On Monday Jozy sent me a message saying that we had better watch out for them," said Capdevila. "But because he doesn't speak very good Spanish I'm assuming he made a mistake!"
Though La Roja are heavily favoured to emerge victorious on Wednesday evening, thanks in large part to their record run of consecutive wins and a 35-match unbeaten streak, the former Deportivo La Coruna, Atletico Madrid and Espanyol full-back knows Altidore's text has an element of truth: "Jozy is physically very strong and could make life difficult for us. He's a great player."
Friendship to the text
"He's such a joker!" fired back Altidore with a smile, when quizzed by FIFA.com about the aforementioned message. "He understood my text perfectly, he's just trying to make me look bad! He is an excellent player though and a great person as well. It'll be a pleasure to be back on the pitch with him, even though we're on opposite sides."
With the Stars and Stripes preparing to face the world's number-one team in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, Altidore makes no bones of the fact that Spain are favourites to reach the competition finale. "Are we the outsiders, the underdogs? Of course we are. When aren't we?" said the former New York Red Bull front-runner. "We're going to have to fight really hard and above all not give Spain any space to string their moves together. Basically, what we usually do against all our opponents."
The New Jersey native of Haitian ancestry, who broke into the Red Bulls' first team at just 16 and still holds the record as MLS' youngest ever scorer, also stated his belief that better things are just around the corner for him with Villarreal, having struggled to find his feet in his first campaign: "When I arrived there was a lot of expectation because of my performances in the United States, but obviously things aren't that simple."
"It's not like you can just touch down in Spain and score 30 goals straightaway," continued the young goalgetter. "Now I'm enjoying the Spanish game and I feel more comfortable. I'm getting used to the fact that it's much more about technique over there. Next season will be really important for me, and there'd be no better way to get the ball rolling than with a great performance in these decisive games in South Africa."
And though his friend and club-mate Capdevila would also be delighted to see Altidore do well in 2009/10, he may prefer the big man to start hitting form after Wednesday's semi-final.