USA will look to reprise one of their greatest triumphs, and one of the FIFA World Cup's biggest upsets, when they open their South Africa 2010 account against England on Saturday.
“This is the real deal right in front of us now,” USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, who plays his club football on the blue side of Liverpool with Everton, told FIFA.com on the eve of the big opener against one of the world’s top sides. “The time for friendlies is over, the preparations are done and it's show-time now,” said the former Manchester United No1, who was in between the posts the last time the US lined up at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.
Last June, the Americans began their FIFA Confederations Cup – a warm up for these world finals – in dismal fashion, losing to Italy 3-1 in their opener before going down by an identical scoreline to Brazil in Tshwane/Pretoria. Needing a big win and a whole slew of positive results elsewhere to ensure qualification for the knockout rounds on three slim points, they went about the business of putting African champions Egypt to the sword in a 3-0 win under the floodlights on the outskirts of Rustenburg.
“We learned we could compete with the best teams in the world,” said Landon Donovan after the tournament, where the Americans picked up the pace after their slow start, beating European champions Spain and leading Brazil 2-0 at the half of their first-ever world final. “I think what that tournament showed was that, on our day, we can beat any team in the world.”
Clint Dempsey, one of eight American players in Bob Bradley's squad to ply his club trade in England, was named man of the match in that crucial win over the Egyptians. “This is the World Cup, man, you can’t hold anything back. This is what we work hard for as professionals,” he said, fresh off a standout season for UEFA Europa League runners-up Fulham. “It’s going to be a tough game against England, they’re a strong team and everyone knows that. But we’ve got out preparations right and now all we can do is go out and do our best and see what happens.
"I’ll try to take the confidence I have from playing over the Premier League into the national team here in South Africa when we meet up with England,” Dempsey added. “I’m feeling good right now; I feel like I’m playing some good football. We’re hoping to hit our peak in this first round and go on from there.” USA team captain, defender Carlos Bocanegra, sees something to fear in the English. “They’re a strong team, very direct, very physical and very technical,” said the France-based defender, formerly a club team-mate of Dempsey’s at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. “It will be a tough test for us, but I think we can match well up against them and anything can happen.”
If the Americans were able to pull off a shock win against the English it certainly wouldn’t be a first on the world stage. One of the greatest upsets in FIFA World Cup history came in 1950, in Belo Horizante, Brazil, when a lone goal from Joe Gaetjens saw the Americans shock the world with victory over the founders of the modern game. Bocanegra, for one, is eager to dismiss any romantic connections between this meeting and the one 60 years in the past. “Those guys did a special thing back then,” he told FIFA.com,” but it was a long time ago and now we need to do something for ourselves.”
For Howard – the man who will stare down the predatory likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, the concerns are also more present-day. “There’s a lot to fear in this England team. They’re potent and aggressive all the time. We’ll have our work cut out.”