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U.S. Faces Long Odds In First World Cup Match


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. For American soccer fans the wait is almost over. Tomorrow in Natal, Brazil the U.S. men's national team plays its first game of the World Cup. And it's a tough one - Ghana. The West African nation has walk knocked the US out of the last two World Cups. Joining me now from Natal to talk a little soccer strategy and weather is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, I here you've been getting a little bit of rain down there.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Only for about three straight days Arun. You know we - all though right now the rains have let up but we do expect them to come back. We haven't seen it but we've heard reports of flooded streets of a landslide, even some being evacuated. One local told us it's been several years since Natal and this area have had this kind of heavy sustained rain. And even for a guy like me who's based in rainy Oregon this is a lot.

RATH: And what kind of impact could that have on the game tomorrow?

GOLDMAN: You know that's a good question. The U.S. team has been doing a ton of conditioning in preparation for its second game, which will be against Portugal in the steamy Amazon. But I don't think there's been much if any torrential rain preparation. Forecast as I mentioned say there's a chance this will continue through tomorrow. And it could make the field a mess. If there's standing water that's obviously hard to kick a ball through, footing is affected and certainly strategy would be too. Ghana is a speedy team that likes to get out on a break and bring attackers forward quickly. A soggy field might inhibit that. The U.S. has been a possession team under Jurgen Klinsmann, a team that tries to build its attack by passing. It's been blending that more with the attack style, but again both of those strategies might suffer with heavy water on the field. You really hope things will have dried out a bit. So we can see a game where these teams true colors and styles come out.

RATH: We've been hearing a lot about the opening round group that the Americans are in. It's been branded the "the group of death." Along with Ghana it has two of the world's top teams Portugal and Germany. How important is it that the U.S. do well on this first game tomorrow against Ghana?

GOLDMAN: You know Jurgen Klinsmann has been saying two things publicly in the build up to this tournament. The U.S. cannot win the World Cup and that sparked a lot of debate and he's also consistently said that this opener is critical pretty much of a must win game. The goal of every team is to get the three points for a win or at the very least one point for a tie. If the two teams in each group with the most points after the opening round-robin games, they move on to the knockout stage. Now Ghana is America's best chance for points, Portugal and Germany not so much. So the U.S. is approaching this game as their World Cup. Not to say they still can't get out of their group if they lose, but it will be extremely difficult. And here come the rains.

RATH: Of course there are 30 other teams aside from the U.S. and Ghana in this World Cup. Can you briefly catch us up on what's been the action?

GOLDMAN: Action is excellent word, Arun. A lot of people are gushing about this tournament in its very early days because of the action. There's lots of scoring heading into Sunday there have been twice as many goals at this point as in the last World Cup in 2010. There's an average of 3.5 goals-per-game reportedly the highest average in nearly 60 years. So all in all, Arun, a very good start here regardless of the rain.

RATH: That NPR sport correspondent Tom Goldman speaking to us from Natal, Brazil. Tom thanks and stay dry.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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