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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

June 17, 2010
MUST-NOT LOSE
U.S. needs at least a tie vs. Slovenia to remain alive in World Cup

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

Oguchi Onyewu: "We just have to go out there . . . and play the way we know how to play.”
Oguchi Onyewu: "We just have to go out there . . . and play the way we know how to play.”
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
JOHANNESBURG -- The United States tussle with Spain? No problem. The U.S. surprised the then No. 1 soccer team in the world in the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup last year.

The U.S. battle Brazil? No problem. The Americans enjoyed a two-goal halftime lead in the Cup final before the five-time world champions stormed back in the second half of the final for a 3-2 result.

But play a Central or Eastern European side and that's when the U.S. has experienced big problems.

In World Cup play, the U.S. has never beaten a country from that part of the world, registering an 0-8-1 mark. It's only point came from a 1-1 tie with Switzerland in 1994.

On Friday, the Americans (0-0-1, one point) will take on Slovenia at Ellis Park here in which they must get at least a tie in the Group C encounter to remain in contention for the second round of the World Cup. That possibility became reality yesterday, when Slovenia (1-0-0, three) edged past Algeria (0-1-0, none).

Given the U.S. history, Slovenia won't be pushovers.

Slovenia leads Group C lead behind a 1-0 win over Algeria Polokwane Sunday.

"They're typically hard-working, organized teams," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said of Eastern and Central European teams. "They're not all the same by any means."

Bradley, whose team registered a 1-1 draw with England Saturday, said that there were similarities between Slovenia and Slovakia, whom the U.S. lost in an international friendly in Bratislava, Slovakia on Oct. 14, 2009.

"They make it hard for you," he added. "They have players who might not be big names, but still if you know anything about where they play for their clubs and follow them, they;re sold, good players. No surprises."

Bradley expects "a different kind of game" from the England encounter, saying Slovenia has "the ability at times to sit back a little more and get you on the counter. So the pure speed and physicality of [Saturday] night's game, that probably is on the very high end. The Slovenia game in some ways might be more of a chess match a little bit."

Slovenia, which isn't necessarily well known as a soccer power, but it has enjoyed much success in its short history.

It is the smallest country in this competition at two million, roughly the size of Houston. After splitting from Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenia played its first international match the next year. It qualified for its first World Cup in 2002, losing all three games. After missing the 2006 World Cup, Slovenia needed to overcome Russia in a playoff to qualify for South Africa.

A tie against Slovenia in the Group C encounter at Ellis Park will keep the Americans' hopes alive to reach the second round.

A win would put the U.S. in the driver's seat with a Wednesday confrontation with Algeria on tap.

"This is as big a game as we will ever play," midfielder Landon Donovan said.

For the past several months, the U.S.-England match dominated the center spotlight as the Slovenia and Algeria games were pushed to the side. Right fullback Steve Cherundolo, who played arguably his best game for the National Team Saturday, said the U.S. will have plenty of time to prepare for the European side.

"Just like the clubs, you have a few days to prepare for an opponent," he said. "It's nothing out of the ordinary for us."

Among the players the U.S. must be concerned about are Robert Koren, whose 79th-minute goal propelled Slovenia to a 1-0 win over Algeria in its first game Saturday, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, midfielder Valter Birsa and forwards Zlatko Dedic and Milivoje Novakovic.

“They look like they’re strikers that work for the team,” U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu said “They’re hard workers. They run all across the field. They’re going to do the dirty work in order for their team to come out on top. We’re ready for that, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Among the players the U.S. must be concerned about are Robert Koren, whose 79th-minute goal propelled Slovenia to a 1-0 win over Algeria in its first game Saturday, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, midfielder Valter Birsa and forwards Zlatko Dedic and Milivoje Novakovic.

“They look like they’re strikers that work for the team,” U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu said “They’re hard workers. They run all across the field. They’re going to do the dirty work in order for their team to come out on top. We’re ready for that, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. We just have to go out there . . . and play the way we know how to play.”
   
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