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Arena faces lineup decisions for Brazil match in Confederations Cup.

By Robert Wagman

John Harkes (Monday, July 26, 1999) -- The United States went to Guadalajara with one major objective -- make it into the semifinals where it likely will face host Mexico in Mexico City’s 110,000-seat Azteca Stadium.

Achieving this goal, requires finishing second in the Group B, ahead of either Brazil or Germany. After the first day of competition, the U.S. now knows exactly what it must do to get to the semifinals, and Bruce Arena faces a major decision.

The opening day of competition actually went pretty much as expected in the group. Brazil defeated Germany, although the 4-0 romp (Germany’s worst defeat in five decades) was much more one sided than anyone would have expected. The U.S. beat New Zealand handily, although the final 2-1 score both didn’t reflect the U.S. dominance of the match, and will not be of much help in any goal-differential tiebreaker to determine second place.

The first day’s results pretty much dictate that the U.S. needs to defeat Germany on Friday night to guarantee advancement. It remains certainly possible that the U.S. could advance by drawing with Germany, but that would require the Americans to not lose more than four goals of its current plus-five goal differential over the Germans in Wednesday’s action. It would certainly be helpful if New Zealand could tie or stay close to Germany.

Thus Bruce Arena’s dilemma. He will need fresh troops with fresh legs for the crucial meeting with Germany on Friday. But he needs to hold Brazil close on Wednesday. So can he afford to keep key players out of the Brazil match so they will be ready for Germany two nights later?

Before leaving for Mexico,Arena said he knew he would have to use most, if not all, his 20-roster because there is so little time scheduled between matches. Losing David Regis to problems related to off-season knee surgery and then Chris Armas to a knee injury in the scrimmage with Egypt hurt the U.S.’s depth. But it would appear that Arena can withhold some players from the Brazil match and still hope to keep the score close.

The key players in the match against New Zealand were striker Brian McBride, midfielder Jovan Kirovski, defenders Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos and Robin Fraser, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, and surprisingly, midfielder John Harkes. They will also be key against Germany. So the question for Arena: who to rest against Brazil.

What the Brazilians showed in their opening match against Germany was blazing speed and a long familiarity with playing in very hot temperatures. They gained strength as the Germans wilted. The U.S. will need try to match the Brazilians speed and fitness. It will be a lot to ask.

It is doubtful that Harkes could play both matches, so Joey DiGiamarino in midfield is a possibility. Frazier and Llamosa probably should be rested, with Greg Berhalter and the very experienced Marcelo Balboa inserted. Chicago’s C.J. Brown is also a possibility, if Arena wants to rest Agoos. But against Argentina in June, Brown showed he had difficulty containing an international caliber player with good pace, so he would be a question mark against Brazil.

Using Frankie Hejduk and Ben Olsen in the middle, would give Arena more speed to match the Brazilians’ pace, and would perhaps allow Eddie Lewis, Richie Williams or Cobi Jones to rest. Using Joe-Max Moore up front would give rest to either Ernie Stewart or McBride. Keller should be able to play both matches, but using Brad Friedel against Brazil is a possibility.

It would be nice to believe that the U.S. could throw everything it has against Brazil and emerge with a victory, since this Brazilian squad is clearly not as good as the one the U.S. shocked 1-0 in Los Angeles in 1998. But that is not likely. The squad Brazil has brought to the Confederations Cup is young and hungry and extremely talented. For the U.S. to lose 2-0 or 3-1 would not be surprising.

Robert Wagman is a regular contributor to SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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