US, Nigeria meet in final World Cup warm-up
Hoping to launch their journey to Brazil with maximum momentum, the United States will play host to fellow World Cup qualifiers Nigeria on Saturday in a key warm-up friendly for both.
The Americans beat Azerbaijan 2-0 on May 27 in San Francisco and edged Turkey 2-1 last Sunday in suburban New York.
Facing Nigeria in Florida will give the US squad a taste of the heat and humidity they will face in Brazil and a sample of the style they will see in their World Cup opener on June 16 against Ghana in Natal.
The Americans, who also have Germany and Portugal as World Cup opponents in Group G, know Ghana's Black Stars all too well -- they ousted the US team from the 2010 World Cup in the round of 16 and ended the US run in 2006 with a win in their group-stage match-up.
"We expect to advance to the knockout stage, so we've got to figure out a way to do that," US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
Getting past Ghana would be a good start and handling Nigeria would be a good omen for US prospects of doing that.
Nigeria, ranked 44th in the world, reached the last 16 in 1994 and 1998 in their first two World Cup appearances but were unable to escape the group stages in 2002 or 2010.
The Super Eagles will play in Group F alongside Argentina, Bosnia and Iran, whom the Nigerians meet in their World Cup opener on June 16 in Curitiba.
Nigeria will meet the Americans four days after a goalless draw with Greece in Pennsylvania.
A US squad blending newcomers hungry to show what they can achieve and veterans familiar with the pressure of the World Cup spotlight has meshed well in the past few weeks, US forward Clint Dempsey said.
"I think that's what's good about some of the young talent we have in the United States -- they are not afraid of the big stage," Dempsey said. "They accept the challenge."
Starting spots remain up for grabs in defence and in the midfield of the US modified diamond formation while Jozy Altidore, who netted eight goals for the national side last year, still seeks his first of 2014 and could be at risk of losing a spot in the starting XI.