The United States, despite squeezing through to knockout stages with a pair of slim 1-0 wins, have been playing a surprisingly stylish brand of football. It is something of a departure for the normally athletic, earnest and hard-working North Americans, who fairly well managed to wow the crowds in Kano.
"Technical football is all I know," USA's coach and former Colombia international, Wilmer Cabrera, told FIFA.com after his side booked passage to the round of 16. "The physical part of the game is already there with these boys, so I tried to focus more on technical play. I think you can see the product of that work we've done with the way we've been playing," added the thoughtful boss.
Luis Gil has shown himself to be an elegant and creative presence in midfield for Cabrera's Stars and Stripes, while Jack McInerney - top scorer in CONCACAF qualifying - has looked one of the most unusual and impressive front-line players at these finals. And with the USA moving the ball well all over the park in their first round games, they now face a sterner test in the knockout rounds against the Italians in Kaduna on 4 November. Cabrera, who lined up at two FIFA senior World Cups™ and two youth World Cups for Colombia, is hoping his simple plan can continue to pay dividends.
"We have been getting better in every match," said the boss, who saw his side blow a 1-0 lead and a one-man advantage in their opener with Spain. "We can't change our style and we can't do different things depending on who we play against on the day. We just need to put the ball on the ground and play, that's the key. And when we don't have the ball, we have to be organized and fight to get it back as quickly as possible."
One area of concern for Cabrera, a rangy wide defender in his playing days, is a lack of finishing spark in the side. In both of their wins so far - against United Arab Emirates and debutants Malawi - the Americans were wasteful in front of goal, unable to kill off the game. "We created many chances in our games so far, but we have been unable to finish them," he said. "But as long as we're creating chances, that's the most important thing. Football is like this sometimes. We must remain calm and keep playing good football."
When talk turns to how far Cabrera thinks his team can go here in Nigeria, the Colombian becomes pensive and unwilling to overestimate his boys' chances. "It's difficult to say how far we can go," the coach remarked. "At this age, you see a wonderful team one day, and the day after you see the same team suffering a lack of concentration. At this age the most important thing is to keep your team focus during 90 minutes."
Despite bemoaning his side's lack of finishing and lauding of their creativity and control, the boss would gladly take another tense, profligate 1-0 win in the round of 16 clash with Italy: "You bet I would," he says with a smile. "Show me where to sign that deal and I will do it!"