Aug. 12, 2008
Short-handed U.S. men need at least a tie to reach Olympic quarterfinals
Shenyang, China -- It will be difficult, but not impossible, the U.S. men say.
Faced with getting at least a tie to continue its Olympic medal dreams, the United States enters Wednesday night's vital Group B confrontation in Beijing without two key players sidelined with yellow card suspensions.
The Americans will play without their two best midfielders -- playmaker Freddy Adu and defensive midfielder Michael Bradley. Still, they feel they have the depth, desire and talent to reach the quarterfinals for only the second time in their history. They reached the medal round in 2000, finishing fourth.
The group winner will take on Argentina or Ivory Coast and Australia from Group A Saturday.
“They are very technical players," said former Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore, who is expected to partner with Brian McBride after coming off the bench in consecutive matches. "They play very freely. They can punish you in a lot of different ways. We know what we’re up against. But we feel we can play with everybody, and that’s the feeling we’ve had since day one inside this camp. So we’re going to take the same attitude as we did against the Netherlands.”
The U.S. (1-0-1, four points) are the group leaders on the third tie-breaking criteria (most goals), followed by Nigeria (1-0-1, four), the Netherlands (0-0-2, two) and Japan (0-2-0, none).
So, regardless how the Dutch fare against the Japanese, a tie will clinch a quarterfinal slot for the U.S.
The Nigerians don't have the luxury and must go out and play to win, so they're not taking anything for granted after watching how the Americans dominated the Netherlands for much of their 2-2 draw in Tianjin.
"The USA will be a very dangerous opponent for us because they are one of the top teams at this competition and also because they will be playing for their lives," said Nigeria forward Victor Obinna, who scored in the 2-1 win over Japan Sunday.
Unlike Dutch coach Foppe de Haan, who claimed the U.S. was not as good as the Nigerians, Nigeria coach Samson Siasia did not leave any juicy motivational--type quotes for the Americans to put up on their locker room wall.
"The USA will be a tough opponent," Siasia said. "They are a very good team. But we're not afraid of anyone. We just want to go out and get the job done."
The Americans say they have put the disappointment of their Dutch draw behind them. They watched a 2-1 lead and a spot in the quarterfinal disappear in injury on Gerald Sibon's free-kick goal only seconds before the final whistle.
"This team won't put our heads down, I know that much," said Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan, expected to run the attack. "I’m more proud than ever to be an American right now and to play on this team. It’s an unbelievable feeling to have played that way.”
The U.S. leads the group, but that will mean nothing without at least a draw.
“Coming into the tournament I think we were considered underdogs in this group," Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden said. "I think we’ve really kind of made our mark on this group and the other teams are taking us a little more seriously after our first two performances. I think Nigeria will know that we’re a formidable opponent."
The Nigerians have been hard pressed at the Olympic and senior levels to take advantage of their marvelous performance en route to the 1996 gold medal at the Atlanta Summer Games.
But they still must be considered a dangerous side. Like many Nigerian teams, this side likes to go forward in numbers, which could mean a lot of opportunities for the African side and many counterattacks for their opponents.
"They’re a team that can beat you in a lot of different ways and have quite a bit of pace," McBride said. "We have to make sure we play smart and that our shape is good, and probably figure some things out on the fly.”
Toronto FC defender Marvell Wynne felt the Nigerians will be susceptible to counterattacks.
“If they want to win, they’re going to have to push numbers forward, so we’ll look for counterattacks," he said. "We’ll need to be calm and try and hold the ball as well. It will be a tough task handling their pressure, but we’ll prepare for it.”
The prevailing thought has coach Peter Nowak using Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), who has earned 18 full appearances, in Bradley's place at midfield and that Kljestan will likely run the show.
Feilhaber, who is best known for scoring the winning goal in the 2-1 victory over Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last year, said he will be ready if called upon.
"If [Nowak] decides to bring me in I'll be ready to go and to do everything I can to help the team get the point we need," he told www. FIFA.com.
"We know the Nigerians are an outstanding team. But we're over the disappointments of the Holland game and we've been playing some good soccer. I'm confident that with the dangerous players we have, we can pull off the result."