USA in safe hands

After the dust had settled on the second matchday at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, the USA had already been written off by many so-called experts, as coach John Hackworth's team languished at the foot of Group E following defeats to unfancied Tajikistan and Tunisia. But there are few genuine certainties in this life, and especially not in football.

The Americans defeated Belgium 2-0 in their final match, a victory which unexpectedly proved enough for second place in the section and a spot in the last sixteen. A major contributor to the vital win was Josh Lambo. The goalkeeper and his defenders kept a clean sheet, thereby ending an unwanted streak which had seen the USA concede at least one goal in their previous 16 FIFA U-17 World Cup fixtures.

"It means a lot to me, but equal credit to my team-mates. Our defence was phenomenal and blocked everything," the athletic shot-stopper commented in conversation with Lambo not only shut out the Belgians, he came within an ace of scoring himself: a combination of a gargantuan punt and a nasty bounce had opposite number Jo Coppens scrambling to tip the ball over the bar.

"I just booted the ball downfield. It went over a defender and then over the goalkeeper, and nearly landed in the net. I only realised what had happened when he turned it over the bar and it was a corner for us," Lambo recalled, laughing at the memory of the unusual incident. His name was not destined to appear on the scoresheet, but his team-mates bagged the goals which sent the USA through to the next stage.

The Americans now meet form team Germany, the second-highest scorers in the group stage after Brazil. "They're very strong up front, but I have faith in my defence. We kept a clean sheet against Belgium, and that's a confidence booster," the US keeper declared. "Obviously it'll be a special occasion, a match in the last sixteen at a World Cup. I'm really looking forward to the game."

The teams met in a friendly around a month ago, the USA running up a 3-1 victory. Was that a psychological advantage? "It could be a disadvantage, as they'll definitely be bent on revenge," Lambo muses. "But we know we're capable of beating them, and that will do wonders for our belief. We played way below our potential in the first two matches, and our attitude wasn't right on the day. It was all or nothing against Belgium, and we played our best football so far. In fact, I've not seen this team play much better."

If the USA can maintain their new-found impetus, victory over Germany is unquestionably within the realms of the possible. Lambo has set his sights even higher than that: "If we can carry on where we left off against Belgium, and if we have a bit of luck, we could go a very long way, further than any US team has ever gone at this World Cup. Nothing's impossible for us."