The USA head into their final Group A match against Korea Republic with all to play for, as all four sides in the group sit finely balanced with three points apiece. Though they will have the advantage of knowing the score of the match between Paraguay and Germany before they take the pitch against the Asian champions, they will no doubt be out for a result. And with 14-year-old wunderkind Freddy Adu finally seeing his first finals minutes against Germany, U.S. boss Thomas Rongen knows full well he has an ace up his sleeve.
After coming from behind to crush South American powers Paraguay 3-1 in their opener, the U.S. did not quite look their smashing selves against the Germans. Conceding three goals in 16 second-half minutes, it was not until Adu was injected in minute 73 that the States suddenly surged into attack.
“When Freddy’s out there he makes defenders nervous and it takes a lot of attention off the other strikers and makes room for us,” said U.S. forward Eddie Johnson. “It’s great that he got out there and showed everyone he’s not just hype. I am so proud of him.”
In fact, pride and affection are common themes when Adu’s mates begin to describe their young colleague – who just weeks ago spurned Europe’s biggest clubs by signing a pro contract in the States.
Adu: Abu Dhabi Baby
“Freddy is my favourite player, I love watching him in practice,” ardent admirer Johnson told FIFA.com about the player who joined the camp as a last-minute stand-in. “He thinks I’m joking when I say he is one of my favourite players to watch, but it’s true. He tells me that he looks up to me, and I just laugh and say ‘you don’t look up to me.’ When I was 14 I could only dream about being that good. You never know what he’s going to do with the ball and he’s always smiling.” P>Mike Magee agrees with his strike partner’s assessment of Adu’s attributes. “He’s got that little kid smile and that laugh,” he said of his roommate – 6 years his junior. It’s like having your little brother in the team. It’s almost like being back home when he’s around. He so young and he’s still so much in love with the game. All of us are thrilled to have him around.”
When he took the field at the Al Nahyan stadium, the anticipation from the crowd was palpable. And when he shook hands with Magee and burst into the fray, the whole outlook changed. It took no time at all for his sparkling skill and penchant for running mercilessly at defenders to have the Germans falling all over themselves. A rough challenge on the youngster in minute 77 led directly to the States’ only goal – scored by defender Zack Whitbread from a Bobby Convey set piece.
“I think if we had ten more minutes we would have grabbed another goal, maybe two,” Adu told FIFA.com. “It felt great to get out there. I’ve been waiting for the chance and I just wanted to help my team get something going.”
“I would have blasted it!”
As the match wound down, the Germans manfully held their rearguard together, but only just. Two minutes into stoppage time, Adu and his captain Convey nearly closed the gap a bit more. Cutting into the box, Convey squared the ball to Adu – alone at the far post. But the second-youngest player ever to take the field at a FIFA World Youth Championship decided to caress the ball toward goal, giving German captain Benjamin Wingerter just enough time to clear off the line – his second desperate save of the match.
“If I had it to do again I would have blasted it!” Freddy shouted, leaning back in his chair in seeming agony at the team hotel. “Really, I would have hit it as hard as I could.”
he big question remains: will Rongen use Adu from the start in what will most likely be a must-win match against the Koreans. Most signposts point to no, as the youngster trained with the reserves on Wednesday morning and the Dutch-born boss has time and again expressed his preference for brining Adu in only in times of dire necessity. “…You’ll see Freddy when we are down a goal or two in the last 20 minutes,” he said after disappointing a curious crowd by leaving Adu on the bench in the first match against Paraguay.
With or without Adu, the U.S. will be in for a tough test against the Koreans. “We have to come out ready to play,” said senior international Convey. “We still have a good chance of making the second round. A win will get us there.”
“Korea will be very fit,” he added. “They’ll be there behind the ball with a lot of discipline. It will be a tough game, but we will get our chances and we’ll just have to put them away. We have to have confidence in ourselves.”