DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The first time the United States faced England in the World Cup, the hastily assembled American squad was a motley crew that included a postman, gravedigger, dishwasher, and schoolteacher.
Few of the players had met before they headed to Brazil in 1950 to face mighty England, and the United States’ upset 1-0 victory is often compared to the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” win over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid. Olympic Games as one of the most important moments in American sports history.
The disparity between the two national soccer teams isn’t quite as wide 72 years later, as England and the United States prepare to play Group B on Friday. In fact, American midfielder Tyler Adams said they are more afraid of the Spiders than they are of facing England.
The Americans are the underdog after their 1-1 draw with Wales, while England is coming off an opening 6-2 win over Iran.
“England are still a great team at the end of the day, but the intimidation factor? I wouldn’t say there are a lot of things that intimidate me besides spiders,” said Adams, who plays for Premier League club Leeds.
“It’s fine for me, but obviously I have to play against all these great players, so I’ve done it before. But we also want to show what we are capable of and that American soccer is developing and growing in the right way.”
But that 1950 victory for the Americans was a rare victory against England, which has won eight of its 11 meetings against the United States. The positive? None of those victories were World Cup matches and the second meeting between the teams on soccer’s biggest stage ended in a 1-1 draw in 2010.
United States midfielder Christian Pulisic doesn’t want to hear about stats, standings or predictions. The Americans failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and, after the opening draw, are level with Wales on one point each in the fight to advance to the knockout stage.
England lead the group with three points. A win or tie on Friday would put the Americans in a decent position to be one of two teams to advance.
“We don’t look at the odds and we’re not in the World Cup just to make up the numbers,” Pulisic said. “Come on, we give it our all every game we play, we make America proud. Wherever that takes us, we have to wait and see.”
An England win would put the Three Lions into the round of 16 with one game to play, but manager Gareth Southgate has warned against complacency after Iran’s opening defeat.
England captain Harry Kane, top scorer at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, injured his ankle against Iran and defender Harry Maguire left the game in the 70th minute with blurred vision. Kane trained with the team in recent days and is expected to play on Friday, while Maguire indicated he will play in what will be his 50th appearance for the national team.
Southgate told his team that they must be even better against the United States than against Iran, and thought that the two goals conceded in the last few minutes showed that England were sloppy at the end of that game.
“It’s a top nation with many of the best players to have played in the Premier League and have played against each other,” England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford said. “But it is about us as a team being 100%. This is about us taking the Iran result and entering the US game in a positive way.”
BACK TO THE FIELD
Qatar returns to the competition after becoming the first host nation in World Cup history to lose its opening game, a 1-0 loss to Ecuador on the opening night of the tournament.
Qatar has another chance to win against Senegal, who also lost their first match.
“There is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe the responsibility and the nerves got the better of us,” Qatar coach Félix Sánchez said. “We didn’t start well. It was a terrible start.”
Senegal will be without Sadio Mane, the Bayern Munich striker who was ruled out of the tournament with a leg injury. Midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate is also expected to miss Friday’s game. with a hamstring injury.
Without Mane in the World Cup, Senegal lost to the Netherlands 2-0 and coach Aliou Cissé demands more from strikers Ismaila Sarr and Krépin Diatta.
“We needed to be more effective. Ismaila and Krepin are responsible there, but of course Mane’s absence is a problem for us,” Cissé said. “Our attackers are good and we know what they are capable of. We have to work on it, with Ismaila and the others. We expect a lot from him and from Krepin.”
Gareth Bale scored a late goal from a penalty kick to help Wales draw with the United States in their opener and was excited to have the starring role in their World Cup debut.
Bale, 33, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS, did not hesitate to take the penalty.
“It was always going to be me. Without a doubt,” Bale said. “I feel like I had to step up and I was happy to do it.”
The Asian team will not be able to count on goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand, who is out due to injury. Iran’s medical staff cleared him to continue after a collision with a teammate in the opening game, but he later collapsed on the pitch and was taken to a local hospital. Hossein Hosseini, the reinforcement, should be tested by Bale.
Iran, which has qualified for the last two World Cups, has never advanced to the knockout round.
Ecuador and the Netherlands both won their first matches and Friday’s game will pit forward Enner Valencia against forward Memphis Depay.
Valencia scored both of Ecuador’s goals in a 2-0 win over Qatar before leaving with knee pain, but is ready to play on Friday.
“Enner will play against the Netherlands, there is no doubt about that,” Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro said.
Depay returned from a hamstring injury to lead the Netherlands in their 2-0 win over Senegal. He came off the bench in that match but wants to start against Ecuador.
“He is a player who can make a difference,” Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal said. “He will want to play, but I have to evaluate his form.”
A win for either team would likely guarantee advancement out of Group A. ___
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