South Africa has already proved to be a land of opportunity for the United States, who unexpectedly reached the Confederations Cup final there last summer in thrilling fashion. They defeated African champions Egypt and then ended the world record unbeaten run of Euro 2008 winners Spain before succumbing to Brazil after letting slip a 2-0 lead.
The USA went on to reach a second final a month later in the Gold Cup, before finishing as group winners in a straightforward World Cup qualifying campaign. But the last year has not been an outright success story. A run of five defeats against fellow World Cup qualifiers has cultivated doubts about the team's pedigree, while injury problems could yet expose their lack of strength in depth.
Aim: To qualify from their group, and preferably finish top. Finishing second in Group C means a probable last-16 tie against Germany.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
TIM HOWARD The 31-year-old Everton keeper has been a USA regular since helping his country win the Gold Cup in 2007. He made a career-high 13 international appearances last year, and won the Golden Gloves award for the best goalkeeper at the Confederations Cup in South Africa.
MICHAEL BRADLEY The son of US national coach Bob has overcome the inevitable accusations of nepotism to become a vital member of the team. Bradley anchors the midfield but admits he "can't afford to be one-dimensional." Five goals in World Cup qualifying are testament to the fact he isn't. He has been a mainstay of the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfield for the past two seasons.
LANDON DONOVAN The national team's record goalscorer was crowned US Footballer of the Year for an unprecedented sixth time last year. He played in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and scored five goals in qualifying for South Africa. His 10-week spell at Everton this year - in which he scored two goals in 13 appearances - enhanced his reputation but did little for his complexion; upon returning to LA Galaxy, tanned team-mate Chris Klein said Donovan "looked like he's been hiding in a closet for a few months."
BOB BRADLEY Widely regarded as a master tactician, Bradley has stepped out of the shadow of his friend and former mentor Bruce Arena since replacing him as national coach in December 2006. Bradley was initially given the role on a temporary basis after a failed bid to lure Jurgen Klinsmann, but the US Soccer Federation opted to stick with him and were rewarded with the 2007 Gold Cup title, the Confederations Cup final and World Cup qualification. Despite his success, Bradley polarises opinion among fans. He is unapologetic about his emphasis on a well-organised defence, with the exuberant performances seen at the Confederations Cup an exception to the rule.
ADOPT THEM BECAUSE...
The chances are you have already been cheering for at least one of their players anyway: club sides from 10 different countries are represented in the squad, with a record 19 members playing outside the USA.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
USA's World Cup qualifying highlights
W 8-0 Barbados (H) W 1-0 Barbados (A) W 1-0 Guatemala (A) W 1-0 Cuba (A) W 3-0 Trinidad (H) W 6-1 Cuba (H) L 1-2 Trinidad (A) W 2-0 Guatemala (H) W 2-0 Mexico (H) D 2-2 El Salvador (A) W 3-0 Trinidad (H) L 3-1 Costa Rica (A) W 2-1 Honduras (H) L 2-1 Mexico (A) W 2-1 El Salvador (H) W 1-0 Trinidad (A) W 3-2 Honduras (A) D 2-2 Costa Rica (H) Qualified in first place in Concacaf standings
WORLD CUP BEST
1930: Finished third in the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay, which featured 13 teams. A quarter-final appearance in 2002 is their best performance in recent history.
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