LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
U.S. soccer fans, the moment has arrived. After more than six months of analysis and predictions about America's chances at the World Cup, it's time to play. Today's game against Ghana begins the U.S. World Cup campaign in the so-called group of death. Soccer powers Portugal and Germany are still to come in the opening stage, round-robin. The U.S. and Ghana play in Natal, Brazil. NPR's Tom Goldman is there. He filed this report.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Soccer is the beautiful game. World Cup press conferences are not.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you. Before next question, I kindly ask the photographers to leave the room. Please.
GOLDMAN: Men in blue blazers with FIFA written on them tightly control these media events. Here's hoping the photographers enjoyed their two minutes before being kindly booted out of both the U.S. and Ghana team press conferences yesterday. The rest of the media were allowed to stay and probe Monday's matchup - sorry - revenge matchup. Ghana beat the U.S. in the last two World Cups and Black Stars' captain, Asamoah Gyan, knows the Americans have payback on their minds.
ASAMOAH GYAN: They're coming for revenge. You know, I think mentally they don't want us to beat them for the third time.
GOLDMAN: Gyan insists that number three, dyed into the side of his head, is a long-standing lucky number. U.S. head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, says the revenge thing isn't an issue today, but there would be a certain sweetness to winning.
JURGEN KLINSMANN: This is just an awesome moment because that's the biggest stage you can have, where you kind of want to, you know, show that you improved, you know, and nothing better than against the team that, you know, beat you the last two World Cups.
GOLDMAN: Vegas favors Ghana, slightly. But there's a growing feeling the U.S. - with a largely new cast of players, a worldly, soccer-wise coach in his first cup with this team - might do something special, as in beating Ghana and more? Here's U.S. midfielder, Michael Bradley.
MICHAEL BRADLEY: We welcome the pressure of playing in a World Cup. We know it won't be easy, but certainly we feel like if we step on the field and are sharp and are able to play to the best of our ability that we can have a really good World Cup.
GOLDMAN: Sharp and playing to the best of our ability was as close as anyone came on either team to revealing what will lead to success in today's match. For true insight, one must turn to the beach. Hey, it's Brazil.
GOLDMAN: The beachfront in Natal is a long way from Savannah, Georgia. But when you're soccer experts like Savannah residents, Kyle and Ashli Wemett, you make the trip. Their credentials - they are American Outlaws, the hard-core U.S. men's team fan group. They were at the 2010 World Cup. They've been to qualifying matches - enough said. This, says Kyle, is how the U.S. is going to beat Ghana.
KYLE WEMETT: I mean, they need to attack. They need to take the game to Ghana. Ghana's defense just isn't that great so that's where our best players are - is in the offensive half of the field. So if we utilize that strength I think we can beat them.
GOLDMAN: Wemett, and other experts on the beachfront, say the U.S. backline is critical as well. The defenders need to stop the hard charging, attacking Ghanaians. Whatever tactics Coach Klinsmann employs, he says his team is ready after a month-long training camp and three recent pre-World Cup wins. And he says they're confident. So is he - the man who has insisted for months the U.S. cannot win the World Cup and at yesterday's press conference with this...
KLINSMANN: We're going to take it one step at a time but no, it's - you want to go far. That's definitely our goal. So I booked my flight after the final.
GOLDMAN: No pressure boys. No pressure. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Natal.
WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.
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