John Hackworth is thoroughly enjoying his summer, having guided
the United States' Under-17s through a mid-July European tour
that included three wins in as many friendly games. Not only did
they beat top Belgian sides Club Bruges and Cercle Bruges 3-1 and
2-0 respectively, but they also laid down a marker with a 3-1 win
over their German U-17 counterparts.
After results like these, the Americans look like being a force to be reckoned with at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, which gets underway on 18 August. "Yes, but Germany are still among the tournament favourites as far as I'm concerned," said Hackworth to FIFA.com, playing down the significance of his charges' clinical and highly impressive performance in the recent match held near Frankfurt. "You have to look at our 3-1 win in context - we're a lot further down the line with our preparations than Germany are."
That may be so, but a win like that sends out a message to any future adversaries. The young Americans' displays in Belgium and Germany suggest they are capable of matching or even besting their country's best FIFA U-17 World Cup-performance, when they reached the last four at New Zealand 1999.
Hackworth's team showed a great deal of confidence and maturity in their three European warm-up matches, allowing the opposition to make a lot of the running before shutting them down with excellent tactical defending and rigorous marking. Once in possession, the Stars and Stripes were quick to launch lightning counter-attacks capable of turning the game on its head. "I think we took the Germans a little by surprise in the way we played," explained a smiling Hackworth. "This was just the kind of match we needed to get us ready for Korea."
When they get out to the Far East, the US will be relying heavily on the skills of one of those rare youngsters who is talented beyond his years. Alex Nimo scored twice on European soil and launched countless other attacks with his pace, guile and skill out on the right flank. He will certainly be one to watch in Korea, for fans and opposition defenders alike.
"I thought that I was watching the wrong match," said an amazed Heiko Herrlich, after the final whistle. "I already knew about Nimo, since he's got an international reputation already, despite being so young. But I really do think that the lad is phenomenally talented." High praise indeed from the new Germany U-17 coach, who topped the Bundesliga scoring charts during his playing days...
The young whirlwind from Oregon by way of Liberia, along with Bryan Dominguez - a technically gifted playmaker from Georgia - will be charged with continuing the progress that their older colleagues showed at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, adding attacking talent to a country previously reputed for its defensive qualities.
"Our first aim is obviously to get through the group phase. Once we've done that, then anything will be possible, and we know that," said Hackworth to FIFA.com. In fact, many experienced pundits have backed the USA to overcome Belgium, Tunisia and Tajikistan in Group E and push hard for the overall title.
"This age-group really is strong," continued Hackworth. "They deserve respect, and I think that we managed to earn that with the recent result against the Germans. I'm convinced that we're capable of going to Korea as one of the top teams and coming away with something." Watch this space...