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AP Blog: Stopping Zidane Is Italy’s Issue

July 8, 2006

Now that the World Cup is under way, AP writers will be filing periodic, behind-the-scenes reports during soccer’s largest spectacle:

SATURDAY, July 8

BERLIN _ One day to go.

It’s raining again in Berlin. Italy decided to practice in Duisburg before heading to Berlin.

With Germany playing Portugal in the third-place game in Stuttgart, there doesn’t seem to be much of a buzz on the streets, which are crowded with weekend shoppers.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi talked about the final in his own way: ``Tomorrow we’re going to sit down at a lavishly prepared table and see who’s hungrier,″ he said. ``We have our forks in hand.″

Many people think the key matchup will be Italy’s Gennaro Gattuso vs. France’s Zinedine Zidane.

``Zidane? I’ve played against him several times with Milan and I’ve never marked him man to man,″ Gattuso said. ``To stop him you need to make the sign of the cross.″

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

FRIDAY, July 7

BERLIN _ After going to Italy’s availability, finally make it back to Olympic Stadium. When I arrived in Berlin, there was a massive downpour, and chaos at the train station, where the German penchant for order broke down and everyone crowded for taxis rather than line up.

At night, after the rain stopped, I headed over to the Waldbuehne for a pre-final concert by Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. Domingo choked up with emotion while singing at the start and the finish. Backstage, he said he kept thinking about friend and Three Tenors partner Luciano Pavarotti, who is in a New York hospital following surgery for pancreatic cancer.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

SATURDAY, July 1

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany _ Just past midnight, the English fans at the Gelsenkirchen train station were still singing, only the words had changed from earlier in the day: ``We’re going home, we’re going home ...″

Once again, England tumbled out of a major tournament with a penalty-kick loss, this time 3-1 to Portugal after 120 scoreless minutes in the quarterfinals. This joins a long list of shootout losses: to Portugal in the 2004 Euro quarters, to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup second round, to Germany in the 1996 Euro semis, to Germany in the 1990 World Cup semis. The only Engish shootout win during the 16 years was over Spain in the 1996 Euro quarters.

David Beckham got hurt, Wayne Rooney got ejected. And still the English sang on, urging their players with ``Rule, Britannia!″ and ``God Save the Queen.″

Reaction from the tabloids was predicatable. One headline on The Sun Web site was: ``Pack Your Bags, WAGS,″ referring to the wives and girlfriends.

In the second game, France knocked out defending champion Brazil 1-0, so it will be Germany vs. Italy in Tuesday’s semifinal and Portugal vs. France the following day. Not since 1982 has the World Cup had an all-Europe final four.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

THURSDAY, June 29

BADEN-BADEN, Germany _ After getting a pizza, I was walking back to my hotel just after 11 p.m. when a hoard of photographers, snapping away, came by in the other direction ahead of the WAGS _ wives and girlfriends of the English players. The WAGS, staying at the luxurious Brenner’s Park Hotel and Spa, were mostly in low-cut skimpy outfits, and were giggling, talking on cell phones, as they headed to the nightspots in the center of town.

Earlier in the day, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Steven Guerrard spoke at England’s training camp about Saturday’s quarterfinal with Portugal. England hasn’t been to the World Cup semifinals since 1966, when it beat Portugal in the semis, then defeated Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley.

Tomorrow it’s back north to Gelsenkirchen for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s day-before-match news conference. English fans will be arriving in that small city, too. Perhaps this time there won’t be any trouble.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

TUESDAY, June 27:

BADEN-BADEN, Germany _ Went to England’s training camp, in the Black Forest hills of Bueherltal above this resort spa town.

Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves were the only players available today _ and for only several minutes each. Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was nowhere to be seen.

Access is quite limited. While there is an availability after training Wednesday, The Football Association wasn’t saying who would be available. It’s all quite different from the U.S. training camp, which had more players available for longer periods _ but still fell far short of the access at U.S. professional leagues.

Much is made in Baden-Baden of the WAGS _ wives and girlfriends of players. Photographers with telephoto lenses wait to capture their images.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

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SUNDAY, June 25:

STUTTGART, Germany _ Here’s a sign that you’re no longer with Team USA _ walking the corridors of the train from Hamburg this morning were British Transport Police. Yes, flags with the Cross of St. George can mean only one thing: the English.

After a day in which several hundred English fans were arrested _ as often happens _ David Beckham scored _ which doesn’t occur very much. Becks bent a 25-yard free kick into the corner of the net in the 60th minute to give English a 1-0 victory over Ecuador.

Afterward, the questions from the British media were all along the lines of _ yeah, you won, but you guys didn’t look very good.

Rio Ferdinand summed up the response by saying its the result that matters, not the style. After all, this is soccer, not ballet.

In the night game in Nuremberg, Portugal outslugged _ and outcleated and outelbowed_ the Netherlands 1-0 on Maniche’s goal in the 23rd minute. There were a World Cup record-tying 16 yellow cards _ nine for Portugal and seven for the Netherlands. Each side received a pair of red cards.

England and Portugal meet next weekend in Gelsenkirchen. On Monday, it will be time to head to Baden-Baden and see what England camp is like.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

SATURDAY, June 24:

HAMBURG, Germany _ Last day in Hamburg.

It’s been a really nice place to spend the bulk of the last three weeks, with crisp, fresh air, an inviting lake front and fun World Cup activities.

Bruce Arena was scheduled to head back to the United States today, and Landon Donovan and Chris Albright were due back with the Los Angeles Galaxy for their game against the Houston Dynamo, who might use Brian Ching, who also returned to the United States.

After listening to U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati talk about the initiatives that need to be taken to get more top athletes to play soccer, I went over to the media center, above the Fan Fest, and watched Germany’s 2-0 win over Sweden. People cheered a lot, waved German flags _ even sent up a red flare.

At night, watched the 10:30 p.m. laser light show along the central lake front along with Argentina’s thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over Mexico. The only regret is that because of daily coverage of the U.S. team, I really didn’t get to see Hamburg’s museums and attractions.

Tomorrow it’s time to head to Stuttgart for England-Ecuador _ and the English fans.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

LEIPZIG, Germany _ Among all the usual match day craziness, I find a bit of unexpected, transcendent beauty that has absolutely nothing to do with soccer.

It is around noon, and sunlight streams through the windows of St. Thomas’ Church and onto the slab that since 1950 has marked the resting place of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The streets of Leipzig are full of music on this sunny Saturday _ everything from a young saxophonist playing jazz standards to a trio rocking out with mutant bagpipes and a skin-covered drum.

The square outside St. Thomas’ is no different. Here, a flutist and a keyboard player offer Bach to the passersby.

The door of the church stands open, and the strains of the Bach-Gounod ``Ave Maria″ fill its vaulted expanse. It dies away, and there is silence for perhaps 10 seconds.

Then a fan sounds his plastic horn in the street, and the moment is broken.

_ AP Sports Writer Steve Brisendine

___

FRIDAY, June 23:

HAMBURG, Germany _ As Bruce Arena and Claudio Reyna spoke with reporters, security officials took down the metal detectors in the lobby of the Park Hyatt. When the security is gone, that means the team is, too.

Arena didn’t know what the future holds for him _ he could get a new deal for a third term as U.S. coach, depart for another national team, take over as coach of club or become a broadcaster. Asked whether he felt differently that on the day after elimination in 2002, he quipped: ``Four years ago I was completely burnt out after that whole thing. I was a zombie for about two weeks. Right now, I’m just an idiot.″

A few fans still were in the mall outside the hotel entrance, and John O’Brien signed autographs. As the first round finished Friday, the American finish was finalized: tied for 25th with Iran. That’s not going to help the United States when it comes around to seeding for the 2010 tournament.

Reyna, as expected, announced his retirement from the national team. Classy and well-spoken, he will be missed _ on the field, by teammates, by coaches and by reporters. In eight years as captain and his entire tenure since joining the national team in 1994, he set an example all U.S. players should want to follow.

As for the rest of the World Cup, now comes part two _ single elimination.

Italy has the easier path to the semifinals, Germany the roughest.

If the favorites win their second-round matches, the quarterfinals would be Germany-Argentina, Italy-Switzerland, England-Netherlands and Brazil-Spain (or Brazil-France). The semis could be Germany-Italy, and England-Brazil.

Four years ago, it was Brazil-Turkey and Germany-South Korea. But that was in Asia, and as past World Cups have proven, European nations usually dominate in Europe.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum ___

THURSDAY, June 22:

NUREMBERG, Germany _ American players bowed their heads. The U.S. fans in red, white and blue, so hopeful hours earlier, had forlorn looks, some on the verge of tears.

The United States stumbled again, losing to Ghana 2-1, and was eliminated. A tie would have advanced the Americans to the second round.

There were plenty of players who came up small.

Oguchi Onyewu walked right on by reporters without stopping, so there was no way to know what he thought of the controversial foul called against him in first-half injury time that led to Ghana’s go-ahead goal.

Landon Donovan, streaking down the field in the second half, passed to Ben Olsen instead of taking a shot. He had one shot in the entire tournament, and none on goal.

Instead of a night to celebrate advancing, it was a night to say goodbye. Claudio Reyna, the best American soccer player ever, appeared in a World Cup game for the final time. Brian McBride also played his World Cup finale.

Kasey Keller wants to stick out for four more years, but he’ll be 40 in 2010.

And what will happen to Bruce Arena? That’s probably the next big question. Does he want to stick around for four more years? ``If you asked me right now, probably not″ and then chuckled. He said he had ``other opportunities″ to check out.

They headed back to Hamburg right after the game. As the clock neared midnight, Reyna was the only person committed to appear at Friday’s availability.

A shining moment in the history of American soccer this wasn’t.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

WEDNESDAY, June 21:

NUREMBERG, Germany _ Fraken-Stadion, or rather easyCredit-Stadion, as it’s now known, has a rather famous past. Hitler Youth marched there soon after the stadium was opened, and it’s adjacent to the Zeppelin Field, where the Nazi party held huge rallies.

Ghana and the United States practiced in the remodled, octagonal stadium, and each team sent its coach and captain to talk about Thursday’s game.

Would the American effort be a failure if the team beats Ghana yet fails to advance?

``If that was the case, no, it wouldn’t, because four points got us through last time,″ said U.S. captain Claudio Reyna. ``No, it definitely wouldn’t be a reason to say it was a success or failure because we were in the toughest group in the tournament and I think it’s being proven.″

American fans are in the rebuilt medieval streets of Nuremberg’s old town at night, but there appear to be fewer than were in Kaiserslautern last Friday night.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

TUESDAY, June 20:

HAMBURG, Germany _ The U.S. team practiced at Noerderstedt for perhaps the final time, then got on a charter plane to Nuremberg for Thursday’s game against Ghana.

A day after his 34th birthday _ he went out to dinner with his wife Monday night _ Brian McBride talked about his various injuries, including two plastic surgeries that left part of his face without feeling.

``You don’t really need that to feel anything, do you? Lips feel fine, and tongue is good,″ he said, humorously.

After the news conference, the U.S. writers start heading down to Bavaria for the game on the efficient, high-speed trains. Nuremberg is much warmer and muggier than Hamburg.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

MONDAY, June 19:

HAMBURG, Germany _ Relatively quiet day at Camp USA.

Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and coach Bruce Arena were the only ones available for the media, and they talked about the comeback against Italy and how the United States was preparing for Thursday’s must-win game against Ghana.

Very likely, the Americans also will need Italy to beat the Czech Republic in order to advance. Both games will be played simultaneously.

``If it’s 4-0 at half for Italy, I probably would want to know,″ Donovan said. ``Otherwise, don’t tell me.″

Donovan also has forgiven the Azzurri for the rough play in Saturday night’s 1-1 tie, which included the ejections of two U.S. players and one Italian.

``Listen, I’m rooting Italy for the rest of the week. I couldn’t care less. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the nicest guys in the world,″ he said.

Town was filled with Ukraine and Saudi Arabia fans. The Ukrainians, in their yellow shirts, were a lot happier than the green-shirted Saudis after Ukraine’s 4-0 rout.

On Tuesday, the U.S. team works out before flying down to Bavaria for Thursday’s game in Nuremberg.

_AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

SUNDAY, June 18

HAMBURG, Germany _ Day off for the U.S. team.

Just before Bruce Arena’s 3 p.m. news conference, Claudio Reyna was in the mall below the Park Hyatt, with his family, having an ice cream.

It was a day to chill for players. Arena heaped praise on everyone who played in Saturday night’s historic 1-1 tie with Italy, saving his criticism for the officiating _ not just of Saturday night’s game, but for the entire tournament. Too many cards, he said. Let the players play.

On Tuesday, attention turns to Ghana. To advance, the United States needs to beat Ghana on Thursday and hope Italy defeats the Czech Republic in a game played simultaneously. There are many other combinations, all involving an American win, but they require a goal combinations that seem contortionlike and aren’t likely to occur.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

SUNDAY, June 18

GOETTINGEN, Germany _ Germany has gone ``fussball″-mad during the World Cup. But on a warm Sunday afternoon, in the tiny Maschpark Stadion, I find myself football-bemused.

American football, that is.

I have a ticket to see the Goettingen Generals play the Wolfsburg Blue Wings. After 18 days in Germany, even accented Americana sounds good.

It’s the midpoint of the first quarter when I arrive. How much time remains, only the referee knows. There is no game clock, and the scoreboard (7-0, Generals) is a placard near the north end zone.

By halftime, it’s 20-0. Concessions are in order.

There’s the everpresent bratwurst _ and because this is the home stadium of a sports club founded by Turkish immigrants, there’s Koefte Tasch. It’s a sort of spiced hamburger stuffed into flatbread, with lettuce and tomato.

That and a drink will set you back, at most, the equivalent of $6. You can spend that just smelling food at a stadium in the U.S.

I got my ticket from the cousin of Florian Bangert, a mohawked linebacker who is Goettingen’s captain. Most of the crowd of around 500 are friends or family members of the players, all amateurs who range in age from their 20s to around 50.

I get the feeling the roster is somewhat fluid. Maybe it’s the program announcement that Goettingen is always looking for new talent.

(Not to single out any position, but if you live nearby and can long-snap, practice is from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesdays.)

Also, neither team has anyone who can throw the ball more than 10 yards downfield on a line. Goettingen compensates with trick plays, including several effective halfback passes. Wolfsburg compensates largely by being tackled and shanking punts.

In the third quarter, I wonder aloud whether the officials have forgotten their penalty flags.

No one else seems to be complaining. David Martin, a student at Cal-Berkeley doing a term at the local Georg-August University, says it’s because few fans really understand the rules.

Then, there’s a flag as Goettingen lines up to defend an extra point.

I count helmets. There are 12, which even the most casual fan knows is ``illegales bewegung.″

This is a good year for the Generals _ sort of.

In the system of promotion and relegation, the last-place team in the top division drops down to the lower one for the next season, while the best team in the lower division moves up. Goettingen spends alternate years dominating the lower division and getting creamed in the upper one.

The Generals were relegated after last year, which means it’s their turn to dish out the beatings. They win 40-7.

There is no Gatorade bath for coach Matthias Schmuecker. Instead, players open bottles of beer and head for the stands to schmooze.

So, to review:

I saw players of varying age and skill levels, often improvising their strategies and breaking out the brew as soon as the game ended.

It really was just like the American game ...

... of slow-pitch softball.

_ AP Sports Writer Steve Brisendine

___

SATURDAY, June 17

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany _ In Italy, games like this are called ``brutta figura.″

Few times has the U.S. soccer team been so proud of a tie. The Americans got their first World Cup point on European soil, a rough 1-1 draw against Italy.

So what does it all mean?

If the United States beats Ghana on Thursday in Nuremberg, it can advance if Italy defeats Czech Republic the same day in Hamburg. There also are another bunch of what-ifs, but they all involved the Americans winning by four or more goals, which hasn’t happened since _ well, it’s never happened.

It was a crazy game. Alberto Gilardino scored in the 22nd minute, the United States tied it five minutes later when Italy defender Cristian Zaccardo knocked Bobby Convey’s free kick into the net as he tried to clear the ball before it reached Brian McBride. Then, Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda had both teams seeing red _ red cards.

A minute after the Americans tied it, Italy’s Daniele De Rossi elbowed McBride, opening a cut on the forward’s cheek. De Rossi, who was sent off, apologized to McBride after the game.

Then American midfielder Pablo Mastroeni was tossed in the 45th minute for a cleats-up tackle on Andrea Pirlo. Two minutes into the second half, U.S. defender Eddie Pope got his second yellow card, for a foul on Gilardino.

Kasey Keller made two great saves on Gilardino. DaMarcus Beasley, benched from the starting lineup but in the game as a second-half sub, put the ball in the net in the 66th, but it was disallowed because McBride was offsides.

And that doesn’t even account for all the near misses.

But as much as the play on the field, a lasting memory is the thousands of Americans fans, some no doubt from the nearby U.S. military bases. For perhaps the first time since returning to the World Cup in 1990, the Americans weren’t at a fan disadvantage. Fritz-Walter-Stadion sure had a lot of red, white and blue.

Now it’s off to the train station for the 6 a.m. back to Hamburg, where Arena is to hold an afternoon news conference. Only on Thursday will it become clear if this World Cup is a boom or bust for the United States.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

FRIDAY, June 16

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany

Fritz-Walter-Stadion is perched on a bluff, sort of like the Polo Grounds, and is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, just like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. After climbing what seemed like 100 steps, it finally was possible to view the 15 minutes of U.S. practice that was open Friday.

The Americans are staying at Ramstein Air Base, and captain Claudio Reyna said they were quite happy to be able to have U.S. television networks on their sets. Coach Bruce Arena said the team was ready for Saturday’s game _ it better be, because a loss likely means elimination.

Italy, a three-time tournament favorite, seemed cool and collected in the mixed zone after a workmanlike practice. Unlike the Americans, they don’t care about prying eyes.

K-Town, as it’s known, is filled with U.S. military. The bars downtown blared Rod Stewart and Eddie Money. There might be more of a homefield advantage for the Americans here than in the United States, where immigrants tend to root for their homelands, not for the red, white and blue. Hundreds of Americans, many draped in flags and some wearing Uncle Sam hats, were in the streets until early Saturday morning. Should be a fun atmosphere.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

THURSDAY, June 15

HAMBURG, Germany

The day began with breakfast with Bruce, harkening back to 2002, when U.S. coach Bruce Arena accommodated the U.S. media in South Korea with 8 a.m. access so stories could be refreshed for the next day’s papers. This time, he agreed to move the daily news conference from the afternoon to 8:30 a.m. so that the media could make it to the Ecuador-Costa Rica game at AOL Arena, which began at 3 p.m.

He generally said phooey to assertions by DaMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey that the U.S. team was confused during the big loss to the Czechs. He also said that the team would be staying at Ramstein Air Base, outside Kaiserslautern, for the two nights before Saturday’s game against Italy because of security concerns over the FIFA-designated team hotels in Mannheim.

While the team traveled, Ecuador beat the Costa Ricans 3-0 and advanced to the second round for the first time, showing the Tricolors can play at sea level, too. The most touching moment came in second-half injury time, when Ivan Kaviedes pulled a Spider-Man mask from his shorts _ in Ecuador’s team color of yellow, of course _ and put it on in tribute to Otilino Tenorio, a teammate killed in a May 2005 car crash in Ecuador, just three days after he played for his country in an exhibition game at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium. Tenorio was nicknamed Spider-Man, and used to put on the mask during his goal celebrations.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

WEDNESDAY, June 14

HAMBURG, Germany

A rather strange news conference, with Bobby Convey saying some players didn’t know what they were supposed to do in Monday’s opener against the Czech Republic, a deflating 3-0 loss.

``I think the reason why we didn’t do well is because everyone did not do their role, maybe didn’t know their role, maybe didn’t know what to do,″ Convey said.

``I don’t think it was confusion. It wasn’t that people didn’t know where to go. We just kind of didn’t really jell well together,″ he said. ``It wasn’t a negative thing. It’s just that we kind of _ we just did OK. At a World Cup, it’s not fine to do just OK.″

Mmmm. The preparation for these games began months ago, and the team has been pretty much together since May 10. Perhaps the flexibility of the American team _ Landon Donovan is a forward and a midfielder, DaMarcus Beasley can play on the left or the right, Eddie Lewis can play left midfield or a left back _ has confused players rather than become a benefit.

Eddie Johnson, also at the late-afternoon news conference, likened playing in the World Cup to going to war, a metaphor that came up after the U.S. forward was asked about the team’s visit to a U.S. military base.

``Whenever you put your jersey on and you look at your crest and the national anthem’s going on, and you’re playing against a different country, it’s like you do or die, it’s survival of the (fittest) over 90-minutes plus. We’re going to go out there and do whatever we’ve got to do, make tackles, do the things when the referee’s not looking. ... to get three points.″

That ``do things when the referee’s not looking″ remarks might not go over well with game officials.

Brenda Frese, coach of NCAA women’s basketball champion Maryland, attended the news conference and watched from the back of the room. Her husband is a videographer for the U.S. team.

The team was to go to a reception at the U.S. consulate on Wednesday night.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

TUESDAY, June 13

HAMBURG, Germany

Back at the Park Hyatt, it was a day for blame assessment at U.S. World Cup headquarters. Coach Bruce Arena said blame Landon Donovan, blame DaMarcus Beasley, blame Kasey Keller, blame Eddie Lewis, blame Steve Cherundolo. And yes, blame himself.

``You can check all the boxes, you can blame it all on me. I accept that,″ he said. ``Players play a little bit of a role, too, but I’m willing to take the big hit on that one.″

He wouldn’t go into specifics, but said changes are in store for Saturday’s game against Italy. Sounds like Eddie Johnson in, and maybe John O’Brien, too. DaMarcus Beasley appears headed to the bench, and possibly Steve Cherundolo.

The starters Monday got the day off and shuffled around the U.S. team hotel, while the reserves had a light practice. Arena tried to be humorous, but he didn’t take back any of the harsh criticism he leveled after Monday’s debacle.

If the Americans don’t beat Italy on Saturday, they have little chance of advancing, and they’ve never beaten the Azzurri, a three-time champion.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

MONDAY, June 12

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany

Well, that was underwhelming. It wasn’t quite the massacre of 16 years ago, when Czechoslovakia outshot the United States 24-7 in a 5-1 rout, the return of the Americans to the World Cup after a 40-year absence.

But this time, the expectations were higher, and the 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic might have been just as disheartening.

About 5,000 U.S. fans filled one corner of the stadium, and about three times as many Czech fans filled the other. Just five minutes in, Jan Koller _ he’s the 6-foot-7 1/2-inch Czech guy who looks like a tower _ headed in a cross for an easy goal, and the Czechs romped.

For all the talk by the Americans about how much they had improved, how their quarterfinal finish in South Korea four years ago wasn’t a fluke, they didn’t look it.

Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

Now it gets even tougher _ they face three-time champion Italy on Saturday in Kaiserslautern, needing at least a tie to have a realistic chance of advancing to the second round.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

___

SUNDAY, June 11

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany

There are hundreds of Czechs celebrating on the streets of Gelsenkirchen, but only a few dozen Americans seem to be around.

Fans are anticipating the big game, the opener for both teams.

They practiced in the stadium in the afternoon, held news conference and said they are ready. U.S. coach Bruce Arena and captain Claudio Reyna put it best _ they’re sick of talking about the game, they just want the opening whistle to blow.

_ AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum

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