Monday, Jul 25, 2016
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U.S. soccer aims for '50 redux with Brits

RUSTENBURG, South Africa - When they emerged victorious the last time, they wound up calling it "The Game of Their Lives."

Once-unknown players have spent a lifetime reliving memories of that unexpected night in Belo Horizonte, when the United States rose up and defeated mighty England in the World Cup.

Sixty years removed and 4,449 miles from that stadium in Brazil, the nations finally meet again Saturday in a game that matters, a rematch in this year's World Cup opener for both teams.

Once again, England is stocked with the talented and the wealthy, carrying the hopes of long-suffering supporters who still believe even though 44 years have passed since the Three Lions' last and only World Cup title.

And while the Americans are no longer obscure, and many have gained experience with the very Premier League clubs that produced England's stars, they remain outsiders, eager to earn the respect of not only the soccer powers but of a skeptical public back home.

So, in refurbished Royal Bofokeng Stadium, in the open savannah bushveld near platinum mines and game parks filled with elephants and baboons, soccer's English-speaking power and English-speaking upstart face off for pride, and more importantly, three points toward reaching the second round.

"We believe we're going to win," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said last night. "It's said with no disrespect to our opponent. We certainly know that it will take a strong, strong effort on our part."

Far, far away from home, the setting is most unusual. This is the first World Cup match for the Americans in the southern hemisphere since that trip to Brazil ended with a 5-2 loss to Chile. Yesterday, the U.S. bus was blocked twice when leaving the team hotel, the Bakubung Bush Lodge, and it wasn't because of traffic.

"It was cool," American captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "A big elephant was just eating, I think, on the path."

For England, the U.S. seems to be sort of a generic opponent, like the teams that lose to the Harlem Globetrotters. During coach Fabio Capello's nine-minute prematch news conference, there was not a single reference to the Americans. While England is ranked eighth in the world and the U.S. 14th, it might as well be first and 207th.

"We are sure that we go forward in this competition," Capello said.

Americans like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard have succeeded in the fast-paced English club game. And last year they finished second in the Confederations Cup, beating African champion Egypt 3-0 in this very stadium and before defeating European champion Spain 2-0 in the semifinal.

"The USA is very hard working - very fit and physical," England captain Steven Gerrard said.

There was no live broadcast in the United States of the 1950 game. Indeed, when the initial account came across, some assumed it was a mistake and that the English had won 10-0 or 10-1.

But, as was celebrated in a movie, the U.S. won 1-0 on a 38th-minute goal by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitan immigrant who wasn't even an American citizen, so lax were the rules of that era.

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