Favorites Mexico and the United States will meet tomorrow in an opening-match showdown in the final stage of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The Mexicans lead the Americans 29-14 with 11 drawn in the all-time rivalry, but the Americans are 9-2 with two drawn since 2000 and have not lost a home match to a continental rival since 2001, going 37-0 with 10 draws. USA improvement has created what Mexico's Ricardo Osorio, a Bundesliga defender for Stuttgart, calls "an obsession" in his homeland with proving themselves superior to the Americans.
"It has become an obsession, a mental situation," he said. "In the last few years we haven't played very well against the United States. It's not the same team that we beat 10 years ago by 3-0 very easily. "But it's not Brazil."
Other opening matches in the CONCACAF final round of qualifying sees Trinidad and Tobago at El Salvador, and Honduras travelling to Costa Rica. The tournament continues through 14 October with three teams advancing to South Africa, with the fourth-place finisher meeting the fifth-placed South American nation for yet another 2010 World Cup berth.
Cold weather is typical at this time of year in this small Midwestern venue, home of the Major League Soccer champion Columbus Crew, and a place with little local Mexican support. The USA team is 3-0 with two drawn in qualifiers here. "There's a good feeling about playing here," Bradley said. "It's the kind of game players get excited for. I think it's an edge for us."
The Americans beat Mexico 2-0 in this same round at Columbus during 2001 and 2005 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Warmer than usual weather is expected rather than the sub-freezing temperatures of 2001. "The weather will not decide the game," said Mexico's Sinha, a Brazilian native. "The players will decide the game."
Expect intensity from the start from the border rivals, Bradley warned. "I expect the field is going to be fast," he said. "Early in the game it will be important to try to be the team that is aggressive in an intelligent way, try to play in the other team's end, be the team that can connect some passes, be on rhythm, get on loose balls. We expect the game will be played at a high tempo."
Bradley said he understood the pressure upon Mexican coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to win or face the axe because of the focus of the football-loving nation. "With it comes that type of pressure. It's not the same in the US but as we continue to grow as a soccer country, certainly more of that does take place," Bradley said. "We understand there has been success in the past and every time we step on the field there is pressure to continue that progress."