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Uruguay is first of 3 final tests

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

Things should start getting more interesting today for the U.S. national team and coach Bruce Arena.

The United States plays Uruguay today (2 p.m., Ch. 28) at RFK Stadium in the first of three World Cup tuneups. Though Uruguay was the final team to qualify for this summer's World Cup (its first appearance in the finals since 1990), it is No. 20 in FIFA's world rankings.

Uruguay is 2-1-2 against the United States.

"Uruguay is going to be real tough to play," Arena said. "We won't have everyone available."

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller, playmaking midfielder Claudio Reyna and midfielder John O'Brien were with their European clubs this weekend. All three are expected back for the other two exhibitions and for the games in Korea next month. That's where it gets interesting.

This friendly, along with Thursday's against Jamaica and next Sunday's finale against the Netherlands, provides Arena with a last chance to see his players under the pressure of quality opposition and under the bright lights (all are on national TV).

"(This) week," Arena said, "we will get to play almost everyone."

GERMAN WOES: Germany, a World Cup also-ran since winning the championship in 1990, might have lost veteran defender Christian Woerns. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Saturday and has 20 days before Germany's opener against Saudi Arabia.

"We hope that Christian will be able to resume training 10-14 days after the operation and we are confident he will come to the World Cup," assistant coach Michael Skibbe said.

BORA, BORA, BORA: So what if China is in the World Cup for the first time and in a group with perennial champion contender Brazil, Costa Rica and Turkey? Vagabond coach Bora Milutinovic has a history of doing well.

He guided host Mexico to the 1986 quarterfinals, Costa Rica to the second round in 1990, the host United States to the second round in 1994 and Nigeria to the second round four years ago.

"When you have Brazil in your group, it's already more difficult," he said. "It leaves everyone else fighting for one place."

THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY: If a national team were chosen by popular vote, Romario, the hero of the 1994 World Cup, would be on the Brazilian roster. But coach Luiz Felipe Scolari dislikes Romario, believes he would poison the locker room and cast the lone vote that counted.

"It is a big problem," said Pele, who led Brazil to three World Cup titles and is the international face of his sport.

Even Mario Zagallo, a part of all four Brazilian World Cup wins as a player, coach and technical director, said he would have included Romario if it were up to him. And bear in mind, Zagallo, who excluded an ailing Romario in 1998, is suing the player for slander and defamation.

GLOBAL REMEMBRANCE: FIFA, the sport's world governing body, agreed to stage a game in East Rutherford, N.J. on Sept. 11 to honor the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks on that date. The goal is for the 2002 World Cup champs to meet an all-star team culled from countries across the globe.

"We are very pleased that FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter and the FIFA executive committee have accepted our request to hold the match at Giants Stadium," Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said. "We look forward to working closely with FIFA and U.S. Soccer to ensure that the event provides significant benefit to those affected by the tragedies of Sept. 11 and is a success for soccer in America."

MAY DAYS: Three U.S. players celebrate birthdays later this month: midfielder Eddie Lewis turns 28 Friday, goalkeeper Brad Friedel turns 31 Saturday and forward DaMarcus Beasley hits 20 on May24. HE SAID IT: "There'll be nobody happier than me if Ireland meet England in the final. But I don't believe that's going to happen because England has no chance of getting that far." -- Jack Charlton, a member of England's 1966 World Cup championship team and a former coach for Ireland.

-- Information from other news organizations were used in this report.

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