CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Friday, June 4, 2010
The United States face their first and only pre-World Cup test on South African soil this Saturday with an afternoon friendly against a streaking Australian team, whose previous defeat stretches back to September of last year.
All eyes will be literally on the ball when the two convene on the outskirts of Johannesburg in Ruimsig Stadium, while players from both sides get acclimated to the altitude of roughly 5,500 ft. in Roodepoort, and to the design of the new World Cup game ball.
Australia discovered the effects of the combining factors in a recent friendly against Denmark, and the U.S. have gone through a similar period of adjustment since arriving in the country earlier this week.
Saturday's encounter will also certainly be a chance for U.S. coach Bob Bradley to test out his formation in preparation for the June 12th opener against England, although Thursday's news of Jozy Altidore's sprained ankle could alter his plans.
The Villarreal man picked up the minor injury after a tangle with defender Steve Cherundolo in Wednesday's practice, and is listed as day-to-day.
A scan on Friday will determine whether the 21-year-old striker is healthy enough to feature in the eleven on Saturday.
Regardless of the outcome of the scan, Bradley can be expected to make several substitutions to get a final look at midfield and defensive combinations before the England game.
Following a 4-2 loss to Czech Republic on May 25th, Bradley whittled down his provisional roster to the final 23 and watched them generate an inspired comeback against Turkey in a 2-1 send-off in Philadelphia four days later.
Since arriving in South Africa on Monday, the Americans have spent the week training at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria and residing in the rustic setting of the Irene Country Lodge south of Pretoria.
On the opposite side of the field, coach Pim Verbeek's men struggled and mustered only one goal last Tuesday in the same stadium against a Denmark squad that equally found it difficult to control the new official World Cup ball.
J-league striker Josh Kennedy netted the only goal for the Socceroos in the 1-0 win, taking advantage of sloppy defending in the individual effort.
The Aussies also barely eked out a win in the friendly before that against New Zealand, needing a last-minute winner from Brett Holman to claim a 2-1 victory.
Otherwise Australia has fared well in Asian qualification and international competition, losing only once in their previous 13 matches, a 3-1 loss away at South Korea.
The Dutch skipper may still hold off on the return of hitman Harry Kewell following near recovery from a groin injury. The situation looks better for Brett Emerton after returning to regular training earlier this week following a calf injury.
The Blackburn Rovers midfielder will join Galatasaray's Tim Cahill to spur the offense in the absence of Kewell, who expects to return in time for their first match against Germany on Jun. 13 in Group D action.
The two have met twice in recent years: in a 1-0 victory for the Aussies in Orlando in 1992, and in a scoreless draw in San Jose six years later.
Saturday's opponents could also meet again in the Round of 16, should both squads advance past the group stage.