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Dominated by Scotland, U.S. gains draw with strong defense.

Arena accomplishes goals, defeating Panama and evaluating young Americans.

Americans finish first in qualifying group by blanking Panama 2-0.

Arena saw little to please him in U.S. loss to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica earns World Cup berth, blanking Americans 3-0.

Americans take long way to San Jose to play Costa Rica.

Players need to impress Arena in Costa Rica qualifier.

Arena selects roster for qualifier in Costa Rica.

New U.S. lineup produces lackluster 0-0 draw with Guatemala.

With dominant effort, U.S. dumps Mexico and qualifies for World Cup.

Wasted chances don't stop U.S. from defeating T&T, nearing World Cup berth.

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U.S. men

Americans to face tough foes, travel much, in World Cup.

By Robert Wagman

LEIPZIG, Germany (Friday, December 9, 2005) - The motto of the 2006 World Cup next summer in Germany is "One World - Thirty-Two teams." But for Bruce Arena and the United States men squad, only three of those teams are now of prime importance -- the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana.

Those are the teams that were drawn with the United States into Group E of the competition tonight in an internationally televised gala in Leipzig's Neue Messe exhibition center.

The result of the draw means the U.S. will open play June 12 against the Czechs in Gelsenkirchen. Five days later, it will face Italy in Kaiserslautern and finish group play against Ghana on June 22 in Nuremberg.

Lady Luck really did not smile on the Americans tonight. In every World Cup, there is a designated "Group of Death," -- the most difficult group -- and the instant analysis of this draw says there were two and the U.S. was is one.

Group E, with the U.S., and Group C with Argentina, the Netherlands, Serbia-Montenegro and Cote D'Ivore are considered the most difficult.

Should the Americans advance from its group, they would likely face either tournament favorite Brazil, or Croatia in the Round of 16, depending on whether they finished first or second in the group.

"We'll have our hands full," Arena said immediately after the draw. "We'll decide on the field how difficult this group is. We know they're all going to be difficult games. They always are. They always will be in the World Cup."

"The Czech Republic is number two in the world. Anyone has to rank Italy in the top 10 and Ghana is a good newcomer to the World Cup. We have our hands full, but we look forward to the competition."

Germany 2006 will mark Italy's 16th appearance at a World Cup finals. Italy has won three times -- in 1934, in 1938 and in Spain in 1982. Giovanni Trapattoni now leads the "Azzurri" and the team has reverted to its defensive roots. The one bright note for U.S. hopes is Italy tends to start slowly in group play, but will undoubtedly be tough.

The Italians are probably not the toughest European team in the group. The Czech Republic is considered the up-and-coming team in Europe. It is now ranked second in the world in the latest rankings by world governing body FIFA. The Czechs finished second in the European championships, although they had to defeat Norway in a playoff to earn their way here.

Manager Karel Bruckner has instilled an offensive mentality into the team, and turned it into the top scoring team of European qualifying with 37 goals, going 11-3-0 in 14 qualifying matches. However, star striker Jan Koller, second highest scorer with nine goals, suffered a serious knee injury, and his status for next summer is uncertain.

"We will not underestimate any team in this competition," Bruckner said. "I remember the U.S. from 2002 (a 2-2 draw between the nations at the Summer Olympics). If those players are on this U.S. team, they will be difficult."

Ghana, many observers think, will be the team from the African continent that emerges as the unlikely star of this World Cup although it currently ranks only 50th. The "Black Stars," as they are known, feature a mixture of veterans and youth. The have a strong midfield with captain Stephen Appiah, Chelsea's Michael Essien of Chelsea in England and and Sulley Muntari of Udinese of Italy. Up front, Asamoah Gyan and Dutch-based Matthew Amoah, called back to the side after two years in the dog house, give Ghana scoring power.

Arena said he hoped that the U.S. would be one of the last teams to start play. The American start on June 12, midway through the first round, but none of the matches will be in Hamburg, and in fact are spread out across all of Germany.

U.S. fans are going to get quite a tour of Germany. Gelsenkirchen is in the northwest corner of the country. Kaiserslautern the most southwestern venue and Nuremberg is in the far southeast. The latter two are two of the venues most distance from the U.S. headquarters in Hamburg.

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.

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