USA players dismissed a prediction of victory by Slovenian midfielder Andrej Komac ahead of their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ match on Friday, a game the Americans cannot afford to lose.
Slovenia took the Group C lead with a 1-0 triumph over Algeria while England and the US, the favourites to advance, played to a 1-1 draw. A Slovenian victory over the Americans in Johannesburg will send them into the last 16.
"We are going to win this match," Komac said on Tuesday after a practice session. US goalkeeper Tim Howard responded on Wednesday by basically asking Komac to put his football skills where his mouth is.
"Talk is cheap," Howard said. "He has got to stand toe-to-toe and they have got to stand toe-to-toe with us for 90 minutes. And if he's still standing, then I'll take my hat off to him. But a lot of boxers talk, too, and then they are looking up at the lights and the next thing they know they are trying to figure out how they got there."
It's the Americans who have to fear a knockout blow. While they would have a chance of advancing even with a loss, they admit it is important to seize the opportunity they have to move past Slovenia in the group stage. "It's a must win situation," USA defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "The game against Slovenia will determine if we get out of the group or not."
Onyewu was surprised at such a bold assertion by Komac. "It's definitely a premature comment to make," Onyewu said. "We will have to wait and see how it plays out. They are in a good position. They are confident. It is our job to neutralize that."
Asked what he thought might happen if an American player made a victory guarantee, Onyewu replied, "I don't think a US player would make a comment like that." The US-Slovenia match pits the smallest and largest nations at this FIFA World Cup finals in both land area and population, the United States at 307 million people and Slovenia at about two million.
But it's not such a David and Goliath match-up on the field, the Americans having a slight edge in FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking but Slovenia having already sent Russia and the Czech Republic packing in qualifying rounds. "They are probably feeling confident after getting the three points," Howard said. "And rightfully so."