Coach Bob Bradley and his USA team are determined to contest a sixth FIFA World Cup™ finals in succession by qualifying for the 2010 spectacular in South Africa. The North Americans have appeared at every single showdown between the 32 best nations in the world since the 1990 tournament in Italy.
Bradley and his boys have no intention of breaking that streak when the global event touches down in African soil for the first time. Their qualifying campaign has passed off without a hitch so far. The USA comfortably overcame Barbados in pre-qualifying, and now lie second in a group also including Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Guatemala on three points from their solitary fixture so far.
When the USA visit the Cubans on 6 September in search of three more points on the road to South Africa, Steven Cherundolo will be on the eve of his ninth anniversary as an international. The right-back made his debut for the Stars and Stripes on 8 September 1999 and was a squad member for the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups in Korea/Japan and Germany. The latter is Cherundolo’s second home, as he has played for Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96 since 1999. He also made three appearances at the 2006 finals on his adopted home soil after failing to come off the bench in 2002.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the 1.70m (5 ft 7 in) international, who is convinced his side can triumph both in Cuba and at home at the Bridgeview stadium against Trinidad and Tobago.
FIFA.com: Steven Cherundolo, the USA have made a smooth start to 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying with a 9-0 aggregate victory over Barbados. Can we draw any conclusions for the group stage from this result?
Steven Cherundolo: No, that was just the first round, a knock-out round. We’re now into group matches, and that means some tough games. Obviously we’re aiming to qualify for the World Cup. In other words, we have to get through the group, but it won’t be at all easy.
You opened your group programme with a narrow 1-0 win in Guatemala. You now face Cuba and 2006 FIFA World Cup participants Trinidad and Tobago. Surely these are winnable fixtures for the USA?
I’m certain we’ll win these matches, provided we play to our potential
. However, and I’m sure it won’t happen, but if we fail to take these games seriously, it’ll be extremely difficult. Both countries are capable of very good football, but I’m still expecting two wins for us.
The US have been impressive recently, with narrow away defeats to England (2-0) and Spain (1-0), a draw with Argentina and your victories over Barbados and Guatemala. You seem to be in good form at the moment.
Yes, the squad came together for those games after the leagues finished. The first match in England was our worst performance of the lot, because we’d only just come together as a squad. We needed time to get it together, but that’s normal in team sports. We improved with every game we played. I think we did really well against Argentina, and obviously you’ve got to be satisfied with an 8-0 first leg victory against Barbados.
By contrast, your last tournament appearance at the Copa America rates as disappointing. What changes have been made since your group stage elimination in Venezuela?
We won the Gold Cup just before setting off for the Copa America. We fielded two separate teams in the summer, one team for the Gold Cup and the other for the Copa America. We sent a completely new team to the Copa, and it wasn’t easy for them against high-quality opposition. I think we’d play better football and do better overall if we had another go at it. But the Gold Cup was a great success. I personally couldn’t play at either tournament because of a back injury.
The CONCACAF nations are chasing three-and-a-half places at the 2010 tournament. Who do your regard as your biggest rivals?
Mexico are our strongest opponents. Then there’s Costa Rica, who always put out a good team. Canada are physically strong and improving technically all the time. Then you have Trinidad and Tobago, who made it all the way last time. And there’s always a surprise package, maybe Guatemala or Jamaica, who are very, very good. So there are a number of teams in with a chance.
You went to the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups as a player. What are your memories, especially of the tournament in Germany?
I have very fond memories. Playing at the World Cup was one of my greatest achievements, but it was also one of the biggest disappointments, because we were knocked out at the group stage. I learnt a lot, it was all a lot faster. The whole planet watches the World Cup, it’s a massive stage. But keeping your concentration isn’t easy. There are loads of distractions: your family, TV, the media attention. It’s certainly a very, very big event. I totally enjoyed it, like I did in 2002. I didn’t play back then, but I was part of it. Now I’m looking forward to qualifying, and hopefully to another World Cup after that.
You personally witnessed the effect staging a FIFA World Cup can have on a country, after the tournament came to the USA for the first time in 1994. What does the 2010 FIFA World Cup mean for Africa as a continent, and specifically for South Africa as a country?
I think the tournament will be a real boost to South Africa’s confidence as a nation, due to staging such a big event, building the stadiums and organising a successful tournament. I think it’ll be an important factor for the years afterwards too, both financially and in terms of youth development. The kids will witness the biggest stars live at the stadiums and start dreaming dreams of their own. I watched a couple of games myself in 1994, and it was always my dream to play at the World Cup after that. Fortunately my dream came true in 2006, and now I’m hoping for another tournament to go with it.