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US - Portugal World Cup Win Makes Seoul Headlines - 2002-06-06

The U.S. Soccer team grabbed newspaper headlines Thursday after knocking off fifth-ranked Portugal, 3-2, in its opening World Cup match Wednesday night in Suwan, South Korea, outside Seoul.

The headline in the Korea Times read, "U.S. Pull off Stunning Upset of Portugal." It was the feature story, and next to it ran a photo of forward Brian McBride kissing the ring on his finger after scoring the third U.S. goal late in the first half.

Leading up to the game, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena was repeatedly asked if the Americans could compete with a powerful team like Portugal. And he kept repeating he believed they could. Arena told reporters here that, while many are surprised by his team's win, they should not be.

"My opinion is, the world of soccer is shrinking. The traditionally big powers in the game are generally still the powers," he said. "But the gap has closed considerably, and I think that's because players around the world have a lot more experience. You see players from all parts of the world actively involved in leagues in Europe. Domestic leagues are growing all around the world. The experience level of players has increased. Therefore, when they step on the field in top flight competition, they have a better background to fall upon, and they have more reason to believe they can be successful."

And Brian McBride - now the only American to have scored goals in two different World Cups - said he and his teammates thrive on the challenge of facing the world's football powers.

"I think, as a group, this team has raised its level in high-level games, pressure games," he said.

The pressure will not let up for the U.S. Soccer team, as it faces co-host South Korea in its next Group D game on Monday. The Koreans opened with an impressive 2-0 victory over Poland, so first place in the group and a possible berth in the second round will be on the line.