The U.S. men's soccer team has been drawn against Portugal, Poland and co-host South Korea for next year's World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan. The Americans face a tough challenge if they want to improve on their winless, last place finish in the last World Cup.
The Americans take on Portugal in Suwon, South Korea, June 5. Luis Figo, a finalist for the World Player of the Year Award, leads Portugal's team. The Americans take on South Korea June 10 in Daegu, and will end the group stage against Poland June 14 in Daejon.
U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said his team knows it will be tough to advance at the 2002 tournament. "You know our opening game is going to be a difficult game, because we are playing arguably one of the top five teams in the world in Portugal," he said. "The second game against [South] Korea will be difficult, as well, because they are a host country, and they are going to have tremendous support. And then, lastly, Poland had a very good run in qualifying. So, it is going to be difficult."
The United States plays South Korea twice in World Cup preparation matches, including a match December 9 in Seogwipo. Coach Arena said that his team has gained valuable experience in qualifying for the tournament, experience South Korea did not get, because it got an automatic berth as co-host. "I think our last 15 games of qualifying have probably hardened our team," he said. "One negative that a host country has is that they have not been through qualifying. So, they are not used to the kind of pressure that they are going to have to face by playing at home in a world cup."
The U.S. team finished last in the 1998 World Cup in France. The Americans managed only one goal, and did not score any points in the first round. South Korea has not won a game in the last three World Cup tournaments. Defending champion France and Argentina are considered the favorites for next year's tournament.