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US Soccer Team Prepares to Face World Champion Italy

The U.S. men's soccer team is in South Africa where it will play its opening match of the eight-team Confederations Cup Monday in Pretoria against World Champion Italy. That will be followed by group games with five-time World Cup champion Brazil and Egypt. European champion Spain, Iraq, New Zealand and host South Africa are in the other group.

The U.S. soccer team has been holding its pre-tournament practices at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, a short ride from its hotel in the official Confederations Cup team bus.

The first 15 minutes are open to the media, and then reporters can return at the conclusion of practice to talk to team members.

Landon Donovan, the USA's all-time leader in goals and assists said facing Italy first will be a key test.

"Anytime you play in a tournament like this, the first game is crucial and we know that," said Landon Donovan. "It is a big test. We are playing the defending world champions and we know that. But for us to want to advance [to the semifinals] we need to get something out of this game."

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who plays professionally for Everton, knows he has a big task, trying to keep Italy's front line off the scoreboard.

"Having played in England and still playing there, I feel like week in and week out I play against some of the best strikers in the world," said Tim Howard. "There is never a week we can take off. And so, you know, we are prepared for it, we are excited for it. Is it a challenge? Heck yeah."

U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said he is aware the spotlight will be on this game because it features the reigning world champions. He believes his players are ready for the challenge.

"We know that the first match is always so important in terms of setting the tone," said Bob Bradley. "And whenever you play against a team like Italy you have to be respectful of just their organization and their commitment, and the idea is to match them in those areas and really get after it."

It gets no easier after Italy, the U.S. soccer team faces Brazil on Thursday.