BRENT LATHAM - Sunday, June 14, 2009
It seems more like a party than a soccer match at Ellis Park today. The stadium in downtown Jo-burg is surrounded for miles by jubilant South Africans in an array of their national colors (they have plenty to choose from on their rainbow flag). An hour and a half to game time though, and the stadium is still about half empty, and filling slowly. Still, the homemade horns and colorful outfits and chanting of the crowd, combined with the steep design of the seating here make it seem full already. I can't wait to see how the crowd reacts when South Africa and Iraq take the field in about an hour.
The US v. Italy
There is a strange divergence between the level of respect the US team seems to garner in international soccer circles and that which US fans and press have afforded the team in recent weeks. The Italians, for instance, are serious when they say that the US is an opponent not to be taken lightly, and quite capable of an upset. They remember 2006.
I agree, though I'm not quite sure of the formula it would take to make that happen. If Bradley does risk an offensive minded 4-3-3, I think the odds of a victory as opposed to a 0-0 draw or close loss increase. It looks like that may happen, with Dempsey and Donovan manning the wings, flanking Jozy Altidore in the middle.
I think the US fans have put a little too much stock in the disaster in Costa Rica. The US team had a lot of reasons to play badly, most importantly that most had recently traveled from far away after finishing club play abroad. That's not to make excuses for such a display, but the team is better than that, and I think they will show it here in South Africa. Whether that means they can get out of the first round is another question.
The 2007 Gold Cup Revisited
FIFA is showing highlights on the big screen at Ellis Park. Feilhaber's goal is still amazing. Hard to believe where his career has headed since then, but Benny seems to be back on track this summer. Hopefully he can stay healthy and get back in the picture by next summer.
I'll be twittering some commentary live @yanksabroad during today's match, and much more from Loftus Versfeld tomorrow for the US v. Italy. Enjoy.