After 3 1/2 years of getting ready, it’s time for the final dress rehearsal.
In a refurbished stadium in Irene, South Africa, a western suburb of Johannesburg, the United States will play Australia today in the Americans’ last warm-up match before their World Cup opener against England June 12. And within the game, there are some intriguing potential matchups that make it quite a “friendly.’’
Australian midfielder Tim Cahill will try to beat US goalkeeper Tim Howard, his Everton teammate the past four seasons. And American midfielder Clint Dempsey will be trying to get the ball past the Socceroos’ Mark Schwarzer, his keeper at Fulham the past two years. There’s a lot of mutual admiration.
“Tim is the ultimate competitor,’’ Howard said yesterday. “He’s miserable to play against, you know, and that makes him a fantastic teammate. And he’s a guy who is very fun-loving off the field. But every single game I played with him at Everton, he’s been the first one to take the fight to the other team, to get stuck in, to push and shove, to really push the tempo.’’
Schwarzer has been so good there have been reports Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger wants to acquire the 37-year-old to replace Manuel Almunia.
It will be the last chance for US coach Bob Bradley to test a thus-far shaky defense. It will be Oguchi Onyewu’s third game back following October knee surgery and the second for Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit after abdominal strains. Bradley must sort out whether Steve Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector will start at right back against England. In central midfield, it’s unclear whether Michael Bradley will be joined by Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, or Jose Torres.
Forward Jozy Altidore could miss the Australia match after spraining his right ankle during training Wednesday. Altidore sat out practice yesterday.
Dempsey could be pushed up to forward, which would leave Stuart Holden, DaMarcus Beasley, or Benny Feilhaber to start in midfield with Landon Donovan — who spent three months at Everton last season with Howard and Cahill. The other forward candidates are Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle, and Herculez Gomez.
Ivory Coast may have lost its star and captain, Didier Drogba, when he broke his right arm in a 2-0 victory over Japan. England captain Rio Ferdinand is done after injuring ligaments in his left knee during practice hours before Drogba was hurt. Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo is resting at home in Milan with a calf injury that could force him out of the tournament. And Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar missed practice for the second straight day as he recovers from a back injury.
Injuries have run through nearly every team from every continent well before the tournament begins. Nowhere is the agony stronger than in Ivory Coast.
Drogba, one of the world’s best midfielders, led Chelsea to the English Premier League title this season, scoring 29 goals. But he told teammate Kolo Toure that he will miss the World Cup after being hurt in the warm-up match in Sion, Switzerland.
“For him, he said, the World Cup is finished,’’ Toure said.
Drogba, 32, was taken off 15 minutes into the game after a high challenge by Japan defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka. He was then rushed to a hospital.