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World Cup notebook

US defense at the forefront

Onyewu’s return could be the key

Associated Press / June 8, 2010

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Instead of worrying where the goals are going to come from, this US soccer team’s biggest concern is keeping the ball out of its own net.

Four years ago, the Americans outscored opponents, 3-1, in their final three World Cup warmups, as Morocco, Venezuela, and Latvia played mostly behind the ball with packed-in defenses. The time, against more talented opponents, the US had a 7-6 margin against the Czech Republic, Turkey, and Australia.

While the offense was flowing, the backline was inconsistent.

“I think it’s coming together quite well,’’ defender Oguchi Onyewu said. “That’s why we’ve been in camp for so long, you know, just to get the communication and get the chemistry down, and I think, you know, everyone is starting to jell together as a team.’’

Heading into Saturday’s World Cup opener against England, Onyewu might be the biggest question.

The 6-foot-4-inch defensive anchor tore his left patellar tendon Oct. 14 during the final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica and had surgery a week later. He didn’t make it back onto the field for AC Milan.

Onyewu returned May 25 against the Czech Republic, playing until the 65th minute and getting beaten to a header by Tomas Sivok for the first Czech goal.

Onyewu entered at the start of the second half against Turkey four days later, then entered in the 61st Saturday against Australia.

“I’m personally feeling better since the camp started a couple, a few weeks ago,’’ Onyewu said. “Right now, there haven’t been any issues. I’m feeling good and there’s nothing more to say.’’

Onyewu hasn’t gone 90 minutes in a match since Oct. 10. Clarence Goodson started the last three warmup games and could be paired with Jay DeMerit against the English.

The defense hasn’t been quite as impressive during this cycle as in the previous four years. The US outscored opponents, 42-16, in qualifying while the differential was 35-11 in the preliminaries for the 2006 World Cup.

Stampede an ‘alarm’
The World Cup’s top officials said the South African stadium stampede that left a policeman seriously injured sounded an urgent warning for organizers preparing for the event’s opening match later this week, and called on police to do a better job.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the organization regretted Sunday’s incident, which left 16 people injured outside Makhulong Stadium in the township of Tembisa near Johannesburg.

“I am sure, and you are sure, that this is like an alarm clock and this will not happen at any match at the World Cup,’’ Blatter said after a two-day meeting of FIFA’s executive committee.

The stampede occurred at an exhibition match between Nigeria and North Korea where police said a crowd twice forced open the gates to the stadium.

Flat tuneup for England
England’s first-half performance in its final tuneup for the World Cup so upset its coach that he couldn’t leave the field. Fabio Capello remained outside on his own next to the pitch at halftime in a match with a South African league team. England overcame its inconsistency for a 3-0 win in Moruleng, South Africa, not quite the proper way to prepare for Saturday’s opener against the United States. Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole, and Wayne Rooney scored against the Platinum Stars in front of a small crowd. Only midfielder Joe Cole played the entire match as Capello made 10 changes at halftime . . . Robinho scored two goals and Kaka added another as Brazil easily defeated host Tanzania, 5-1, in Dar es Salaam in its last warmup before the World Cup. “There is still something missing. But we still have a week to go before the opener and we will work to get better,’’ said Kaka, who came into the match nursing a thigh injury but played the entire game.

Medical minute
Defender Rafael Marquez trained with Mexico for the first time since injuring his right leg in last week’s 2-1 exhibition victory over Italy. It was Mexico’s first practice session with every player present since the team arrived in South Africa a few days ago . . . Didier Drogba rejoined his Ivory Coast teammates at their Alpine training camp with a cast protecting his broken right arm. Team spokesman Eric Kacou said it’s not known when Drogba can resume training after the squad arrives in South Africa Thursday, or if he will play at the World Cup.

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