The United States Men's National Soccer team battles arch-rival Mexico on Wednesday in the first match of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, region's final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The United States is heavily favored in the highly-anticipated match in Columbus, Ohio.
Fans from Mexico, Canada, and across the United States will pack the arena Wednesday night to see a match between cross-border rivals. Tickets for the game at Columbus Crew Stadium sold out in just 90 minutes.
U.S. head coach Bob Bradley says there also is great enthusiasm among the players. "You can tell from the way everybody arrived that there is a focus and a sense as to the excitement level of playing Mexico," he said.
The United States has won eight of its last 10 home matches against Mexico since 2000. Mexico is hungry for victory, with pressure mounting on head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson after only one win in the last six games.
Both teams are fortified with talent from some of Europe's top football clubs. Bradley says he expects his veterans to play a key role Wednesday. "Throughout the qualifying we have relied heavily on that corps of veterans. I think they help set a good tone in every camp. They understand what these games are all about. And in the first game of the final round against a rival like Mexico, I think that type of experience will be very, very important, so we are looking to those guys to lead us on the field," he said.
Although Mexico seems to be the underdog, Bradley says he is not taking anything for granted. "Our focus is on Mexico. We always respect the talent that they have, the way they play. I still see qualities of all good Mexican teams - players that are good on the ball, mobility, the way that they do things as a group, and some individually talented guys - so we prepare accordingly for that," he said.
The CONCACAF final round continues through October 14, 2009, with the top three teams advancing to the 2010 World Cup. The CONCACAF fourth place team will compete against the South American region's fifth-place team in a two-game play-off in November