The U.S. soccer team is set to begin its 2006 World Cup campaign on Monday against the Czech Republic. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer reports from Hamburg that the Americans face a difficult task if they are to advance to the second round in Germany.
The United States is in Group E for World Cup play, and that's the only one of the eight four-team groups that has three nations ranked in the worlds top 20.
The Americans' first opponent, the Czech Republic, is ranked second, the USA is tied for fifth, with Spain and Italy is ranked 13th. The fourth group member, Ghana, is ranked 48th.
U.S. coach Bruce Arena says he believes that perhaps realistically his team is rated higher than it should be, but he also told reporters he never pays any attention to rankings, that games are decided on the field. He knows his players will not be intimidated by the Czechs.
"On a given day we can step on the field and play with anybody in the world," said Bruce Arena. "We really believe that. So regardless of the fact that we're playing an opponent who has a pretty good pedigree with players at AC Milan and other big clubs, that doesn't concern us at all. We're pretty confident when we step on the field Monday that we can play with the Czech Republic."
Teams that lose their opening World Cup matches have a very difficult time advancing to the second round. U.S. star midfielder Landon Donovan says it's crucial to get off to a good start.
"This isn't a [full] season that you're playing," said Landon Donovan. "This is a three-game season that you have. You've got three chances to make an impression. It's very difficult to lose the first game and expect to get through, especially in a tough group like this. That has to be our objective. It's the only thing on my mind. I haven't thought a second about Italy or Ghana and that's where my head is at."
Coach Bruce Arena said he knows his players will be ready.
"We're in good shape," he said. "We've had a plan all along since the [group] draw in December [held in Leipzig]. We kind of know where we needed to be every bit of the way. I think the team is healthy, confident and getting a little bit sharper every day. So I think were moving along well."
The Americans' first game against the Czech Republic will be in Gelsenkirchen. They will also travel south from their training base in Hamburg for their other two group matches. The U.S. soccer team will play Italy in Kaiserslautern June 17 and Ghana in Nuremburg June 22.