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Arena wants fearless USA in World Cup crunch

Orlando (AFP) – Bruce Arena has challenged his United States team to show no fear in the face of mounting anxiety, urging them to banish any doubts over their participation at the World Cup by seeing off Panama on Friday.

The US head into the crucial qualifier knowing maximum points from their final two games – they travel to bottom placed Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday – will be enough to book their ticket to Russia.

Yet with Panama, who are a point ahead of Arena’s side in third place and eyeing an historic first ever appearance at the World Cup finals, riding a crest of a wave built on a defensive doggedness which has seen them concede just five goals in their last nine outings, that task will be far from straightforward.

A win for Los Canaleros will be enough to seal a third place finish in this CONCACAF hexagonal and eradicate painful memories of four years ago when the US broke their hearts in the final game with a 3-2 win which saw arch-rivals Mexico sneak into the Brazil finals.

Arena, however, is confident his men can get the job done in Florida before sealing the deal against Trinidad & Tobago next week.

“It’s a huge game for both teams,” Arena said said Thursday. “We will be well prepared to take on what will be a very good team.

“Panama have a defensive posture. They are very physical, not afraid to take fouls and will maintain that kind of aggression.

“So for us it would be good to get control and try and win the game from minute one.”

– ‘Big game, big moments’ –

In the last three qualifying campaigns, the US has sailed through with ease. This time round however, that hasn’t been the case.

“What do I say to fans who are anxious? Watch the game and support us. This why we play for these type of games,” added Arena who has drafted in former US coach Bob Bradley into the training set-up for one game only to help galvanise his squad.

“It’s a big game and there will big moments so that we means we need big performances. I’ve not put one second of thought about the next game in Trinidad. All the focus is on this game.”

With a dearth of attacking prowess in the ranks, Arena will look to the precocious Christian Pulisic to unlock the Panamanian defence.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder, 19, received roughhouse treatment in the 1-1 draw in Panama six months ago which left Arena furious.

The manager was keen to release the pressure on Pulisic but admitted: “Christian is an important part of the team. But everyone needs to perform.”

For the US not to participate at the World Cup for the first time since 1986 would be a hammer-blow for North America and its soccer infrastructure which has grown immeasurably over the past decade.

Arena said his squad was aware of what was stake if the US fail to deliver on Friday.

“I’ve not had to lecture the players as to just how significant this game is,” conceded Arena.

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