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USA determined ahead of World Cup qualifying showdown


San Pedro Sula (Honduras) (AFP) – United States coach Bruce Arena faces the most demanding test of his second spell in charge on Tuesday as his chastened team heads to Honduras for a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier.

Humbled 2-0 by Costa Rica in New Jersey on Friday, the United States face a resurgent Honduras in San Pedro Sula with their hopes of automatic qualification to Russia hanging in the balance.

With Mexico already locking up one of the three automatic qualifying spots from CONCACAF, and second-placed Costa Rica almost certain to grab another, Arena’s men are in a three-way battle for third  with Honduras and Panama.

The USA currently occupy third place in the standings with eight points from seven games, leading Honduras thanks to a vastly superior goal difference.

Panama remain firmly in contention in fifth place, one point behind the USA and Honduras with seven points.

The razor-thin margins between the three teams means that the USA face Honduras knowing that defeat would mean that automatic qualification is no longer in their own hands. The fourth placed team faces a two-legged play-off against the fifth-ranked Asian side.

In theory, Honduras should hold no fear for the Americans, who have a record of played 24, won 17, drawn four, lost three against Tuesday’s opponents.

In their most recent meeting in San Jose in March, Arena’s side ran riot to score a 6-0 victory.

However with the stakes raised on Tuesday, and Honduras opting to kick off in the blazing heat of mid-afternoon, a more challenging task awaits.

– Bradley ‘not worried’ –

US captain Michael Bradley sounded a defiant note in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s loss to Costa Rica, when his team were punished for sloppy defending by some expert counter-attacking by the 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists.

“We’re not worried,” Bradley said. “This is where we are at the moment. The likelihood is it’s going to go down to the wire. And that can’t faze anybody.

“That can’t scare us. Costa Rica and Mexico are gone. Us and Panama and Honduras play a few games, and at the end one will go to the World Cup, one will go to the play-off and one will be out.”

Bradley said while the USA would set out to win all three points on Tuesday, a draw would be a satisfactory result with a home game against Panama next month followed by a trip to Trinidad & Tobago in their final came to come.

“We’re going to go down there with the mentality to win the game,” Bradley said. “We’re going to be aggressive and make sure we are ready to win everything. And if at the end of 90 minutes we’re in a position where we take one point then we’ll take that, and then everything is in our hands in the last two games.”

Veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard, at fault for Costa Rica’s first goal, almost promised a response on Tuesday.

“We’re professional, we’re an experienced group,” Howard said following Friday’s loss. “We’ll bounce back, forget about it and move forward.”

Arena meanwhile is also confident his team can recover their poise in time for Tuesday, insisting that the Costa Rica defeat would not be allowed to fester.

“We’ll move on. This is how you deal in competition sports. You don’t win every game,” he said in the wake of Friday’s loss.

Asked if he believed the team had the character to close out the qualification campaign successfully and reach an eighth successive World Cup finals, he replied: “We’re gonna find that out aren’t we?”

“You hate to look at one game in isolation and not look at the whole,” he said. “We didn’t play well (against Costa Rica). But we still have three games left in the competition. We’re still in position to qualify for the World Cup.”

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