For American keeper Bryant Rueckner this FIFA U-17 World Championship has special significance on account of his Peruvian roots. His father was born in the country and he still has many relatives living in Lima, so his visit to Peru is something of a voyage of self-discovery. Nonetheless, young Rueckner is determined to let nothing get in the way of the competition and is bullish about his side's chances. "I believe that we could very well win this world championship, but the primary objective is to do better than in 1999, when the team came fourth, the best finish ever achieved by a USA team in the event."
To do so, his side needs a good result against Italy in their second Group C encounter. Although the Americans eventually claimed victory against Korea DPR, the manner in which they did so was scarcely convincing. "We were nervous and they created the best chances. We were disappointing. We tried to play flowing football but they succeeded in stifling us. It was a very tough match but we won it in the end, despite playing poorly," explained Rueckner. He is in no doubt, however, that his side will up their game against the Squadra. "I know we'll play better in the next match as the butterflies will have gone."
Against the Koreans, Rueckner experienced some hairy moments and readily admits his culpability for the Asians' first goal. "They knocked over a long cross from the right. I had to backtrack fast and I warned Kevin Alston but he didn't hear me. We collided and he knocked my elbow, making me drop the ball and the Korean forward took full advantage. I was a bit nervous, admittedly, but it was more a combination of unfortunate events."
In view of his hesitancy on high balls, he is aware that he will have to be particularly careful against the powerfully built Italian strikers. "I know I haven't been too hot so far in the air and that I'll have to improve against the Italians as they're tall and physically tough. I'm definitely going to work on it in training," he admits.
Whatever happens, the Americans should not lack motivation against the Italians. The last meeting between the sides was in June, at youth level, when the Azzurini triumphed 3-1 at the last sixteen stage of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. This defeat was doubly frustrating for the fact that the Americans had gone into the tie as firm favourites after looking much more impressive than the Italians in qualifying from the group stage. "That was pretty disappointing as they really should have won that game. But we're good enough to beat them this time and the thought of revenge is an added incentive."
Hoping to perform on papa's patch
At a personal level, the lad known as "Brueck" to his team-mates is desperate to do well in his father's country of origin. "He is very excited about me being here. Some of the family still live here, such as my grandparents, who came to watch the first match. What's more, all my family will be coming to the final group match in Lima," he reveals with unbridled excitement.
These days, opportunities to see his family, including his parents, are few and far between. Based in Florida for football and his studies, he no longer lives at home and even though he says that "the 90-day training camp didn't feel long to me as I'm far away from my parents all year anyway," it is hard to believe that the 17-year-old does not miss his nearest and dearest. If one reads between the lines, in fact, he admits it himself. "I play video games, swim, and go out with my friends. There's not a whole lot to do in Florida," he concedes.
He has been reflecting on the possibility of playing against Peru, something that could well happen at the semi-final stage. And to tell you the truth, this young man with the laid-back air, steady voice and tousled mop of hair has a refreshingly positive take on the subject. "It would be good to play against Peru. I like playing against teams in their own countries, as there's always plenty of passion. And it would be something special for me personally."
One thing is for sure: this strapping 1.83-metre-tall lad has received the best possible support, from none other than the senior team goalkeeper Tim Howard. "My coach, who's a good friend of his, called him before the first match. He handed me the phone and Tim gave me a few tips for the match, as he took part in this event himself back in 1995. He told me to enjoy it as it only happens once in a lifetime. And to do my best," he adds with a hint of emotion in his voice. For his own sake, let us hope that he puts that advice into practice against Italy on 20 September in Chiclayo.