- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

Fresh from winning the Gold Cup last week against Costa Rica, the U.S. men's team now will embark on a tough eight-game schedule as it prepares to face Portugal, South Korea and Poland in June at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Over the next few months the Americans will play Italy, Honduras, Ecuador, Germany, Ireland, Uruguay, Jamaica and Holland before heading for the World Cup. This ambitious lineup could leave the Americans with few victories. Still, the only results that really count for coach Bruce Arena are wins this summer.
"We felt the best way to prepare for the [Cup] competition was to create a rigorous schedule, and we have achieved it,"Arena said.
If you look at the final eight teams the Americans played under former coach Steve Sampson in preparation for the 1998 finals Mexico, Holland, Belgium, Paraguay, Austria, Macedonia, Kuwait and Scotland this year's schedule is clearly more challenging. Italy, Germany and Uruguay have won eight World Cups among them, and Holland was runner-up twice.
Ireland, led by Manchester United's Roy Keane, will put up a stubborn defensive fight in Dublin and play a style similar to Poland's. Ecuador, Honduras and Jamaica will give the Americans a chance to play against second-tier teams with plenty of pace and attacking flair similar to Portugal.
Before the 1998 Cup, the Americans went 2-3-3 in their final eight games, including disappointing scoreless ties with Macedonia and Scotland. Its only victories were against Kuwait and Austria. When the team got to World Cup in France, it went 0-3 against Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia.
This year Germany, Italy, Ecuador, Ireland and Uruguay are all headed to the World Cup and will field their best rosters against the Americans in the upcoming exhibition games. Indeed, the U.S. team will be facing some of the best players in the world. First up will be a game Wednesday at Catania, Italy.
Although Arena won the Gold Cup with a team largely of Major League Soccer players, the roster for the game in Italy is made up predominantly of European-based players.
Twelve players on the 18-man roster compete for top European clubs, including such stars as Claudio Reyna (Sunderland, England), Joe-Max Moore (Everton, England), Brad Friedel (Blackburn, England) and Earnie Stewart (NAC Breda, Holland). But Moore's days at Everton could be short-lived after the club signed French striker David Ginola from Aston Villa yesterday.
"Many of these players are likely to play an important role in the World Cup, so to have an opportunity to bring them together for a few days and to be challenged by a world-class team is extremely valuable," Arena said.
Brian McBride, the team's top scorer in the Gold Cup, did not make the trip to Italy because he is getting married.
The Americans have never beaten Italy and carry a 0-2-2 record.
African Nations Cup Senegal takes on Cameroon in the championship game of the African Nations Cup tomorrow in Bamako, Mali, topping off a month-long tournament involving teams from 16 nations.
Senegal upset Nigeria 2-1 to reach its first final. However, the biggest surprise of the tournament was host Mali, which downed World Cup-bound South Africa in the quarterfinals before going down to reigning champion Cameroon 3-0 in the semifinals Thursday.
Once again the Nations Cup was a chance for many players to display their skills for hordes of agents from European teams. Of 352 players in this year's event, 191 play on European clubs.
Nigeria (1996) and Cameroon (2000) won the last two Olympic gold medals, drawing the world's attention to African players.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter predicts he will award the 2010 World Cup to Morocco or South Africa.
Draft updates The Women's United Soccer Association draft takes place Monday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Washington Freedom have the second pick, after the Carolina Courage. The Freedom are eager to pick University of Florida star forward Abby Wambach. If Carolina takes Wambach, the Freedom will pick Santa Clara defender Danielle Slaton.
The MLS SuperDraft is scheduled tomorrow in Fort Lauderdale, but with 40 fewer jobs available because of the elimination of two teams, there are few roster spots open for new talent. Connecticut defender Chris Gbandi, Stanford defender Lee Morrison, SMU forward Mohammed Fahim and former Maryland striker Taylor Twellman appear the best prospects. D.C. United has the fourth and 11th picks.
Corner kicks MLS announced this week that teams will be able to carry 22 players on their rosters, four more than last season. The extra players will be classified as developmental roster positions and will not count against the salary cap; they must be 23 or under.
The Welsh national team has picked up the gauntlet and will meet mighty Argentina at Cardiff, Wales, on Wednesday.

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