Work in Sports
Into quarters vs. Japan, U.S. men readjust expectations
ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) -- They've already gone where no U.S. men's soccer team has ever gone before. Now they're treading in uncharted territory and facing an unfamiliar foe.
Believe it or not, everything is going to plan.
The United States placed atop the Group C standings after the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament. They managed ties against the Czech Republic and Cameroon and a 3-1 win against Kuwait.
The class of 2000 consequently became the first U.S. team in 11 attempts to advance out of the first round of an Olympic tournament.
Each game from here is a bonus but, with a medals playoff hinging on the result of Saturday's quarterfinal against Japan, the objectives have been shifted.
"We set a goal for ourselves, we've achieved that," coach Clive Charles said. "Our target now is to win our next game ... after that, our next game."
All the pressure is off, he added.
"The guys are very loose, very relaxed and happy to be where they are. They've achieved what everyone thought, and know they can go ahead from here."
The Americans opened their Olympic campaign Sept. 13 with a 2-2 tie against the Czech Republic in Canberra, two days before the official opening ceremony in Sydney, and remained in the national capital for a 1-1 tie against Cameroon.
In both games, the American under-23s had the better of the scoring opportunities, but missed open shots that could have clinched wins.
The introduction of 18-year-old Landon Donovan added some finishing prowess in the third game. His 88th-minute goal against Kuwait in Melbourne ensured the United States finishing No. 1 on goal differential over Cameroon, which also had one win and two ties.
"We brought Landon on because we were creating chances, and we know he's a good finisher, so we expected him to do well," Charles said. "He was in the right place at the right time.
"We still created enough opportunities to score five or six goals, but I'm glad the boys started to find the back of the net. I maintained it's only a matter of time before the goals came. It's obviously a confidence boost."
The United States and Japan have never met in an Olympic tournament. Japan won 2-1 in the World Youth Cup in Nigeria last year.
The Japanese led Group D with successive 2-1 wins against South Africa and Slovakia before losing 1-0 to Brazil in the final preliminary match and finishing No. 2 in the group. It was Japan's first loss in 20 games.
Bronze medalists at the 1968 Olympics, Japan has a quick-paced style spearheaded by midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata of Serie A side AS Roma and striker Naohiro Takahara.
"It's going to be an attacking game; I hope it's not too frantic. I expect it to be end to end. I expect it to be a fast pace," Charles said.
"We're playing against a very good team. They play very well as a unit; everyone gets in attack. But at this stage we're going to spend as much time as we can working on what we do well. We don't want to get paranoid about them."
In the other quarterfinals, Brazil plays Cameroon in Brisbane; Italy and Spain clash in Sydney; and Chile takes on defending champion Nigeria in Melbourne.
The winner of the United States-Japan match plays the Italy-Spain winner next Tuesday.