United States coach Bob Bradley is backing his side to surprise a few people now that they have achieved their first FIFA World Cup™ goal by reaching the knockout stage. Having topped a group that included England, Slovenia and Algeria, the Americans find Ghana standing in the way of a quarter-final place and Bradley expects to reap a dividend from the liberation that reaching the last 16 has brought.
"I think all teams feel the pressure in the first round," he said on the eve of his side's last-16 tie. "When you get through that, it is good to be able to go one game at a time and see how far you can go."
Asked how far he thought that might be, Bradley replied: "If we continue to build on the success we've had so far, we can go to the end. That's the name of the game but that has to be balanced with a concentration on each game. We try hard not to get ahead of ourselves but at same time everyone has this idea that, if everyone puts everything they have into it and things go our way, we could go far."
Bradley's bullish comments did not prevent him from voicing his respect for Ghana, who eliminated the United States in 2006 by beating them 2-1 in their final group game. "This particular Ghana team is well put together. Their coach, Milovan Rajevac, has done a good job. The team is organised, it has some talented individuals and great athletic ability. But when you look at their style of play, you see the individuals fit well into the team framework."
Both sides have had only three days to prepare for the second round clash, but Bradley expects adrenalin to more than compensate for flagging energy levels. "It has been a short turnaround," he said. "But at this point there is so much to play for, the players are excited to have the opportunity in the knockout round, the ability to see how far they can go."
Bradley's squad are often dismissed as more workmanlike but the coach believes there is sufficient creativity there to underpin his ambitions for the rest of the tournament. "I think our team has an understanding that, in order to be succesful, you have got to take all aspects of football and put them together," he said.
"We believe working as a team and together but it would be unfair on our team to stop there. We've shown we can move the ball quickly and intelligently. We have individuals who have made the special plays you need to go far in a tournament. I have believed that all you need to do is put your work clothes on. You also have to be smart, disciplined and creative in the right moments. These are all important. We try to put a team out that puts all those things together."