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Young Americans coming of age

SUWON - Fans of the United States national team have long been talking about the future of the team, referring to some young talented players who were expected to mature into international stars. In Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over Portugal, 20-year-olds Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley announced that the “future” may have arrived.

American fans caught their first glimpse of this dynamic duo in the FIFA U-17 World Championship New Zealand 1999, where they led the U.S. to a fourth-place finish. In the match with Portugal, Donovan and Beasley played like grown men against the likes of Sergio Conceicao, Rui Costa, and Luis Figo, the reigning FIFA World Footballer of the Year.

After the match, Donovan explained that he was not intimidated by Portugal’s stars. “You saw the Senegal game,” he said. “Why can’t we beat a Portugal? I think we played a lot of games this year. We played a lot of good teams pretty tough. Why can’t we beat them? Once you get on the field they’re just like you and me.

“I was surprised to be up 3-0. I don’t think I was surprised to win. What says we can’t beat them? We’re all soccer players.”

Beasley admitted that he had to deal with some pre-game jitters. “I was nervous before the game, but as soon as the whistle blew, all the nerves went away. They told me to be aggressive, go at the defenders, just try to get fouls, try to get in the box, anything you could do to help your team win.”

Perhaps the Chicago Fire midfielder displayed his confidence best during a confrontation with a Portuguese player in the first half. “He was mad because I kicked him in his foot. I was going for the ball; I didn’t mean to hit him. And he kind of got in my face and I got in his,” said Beasley. “You know, that’s the game of football. It just happens that way.”

Youthful exuberance

Although Beasley and Donovan were clear in their confidence, they were both keenly aware of the significance of this, their first FIFA World Cup match. “The feeling at the end of the game was indescribable,” said Donovan.

Beasley could not stop grinning. “I played like it was just a regular game,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s the World Cup, and this actually meant something. This is the biggest game I’ve ever played in my life. To get here at a young age for my first time out, I thought as a team we did really well.

“It’s a great feeling to get this win, and I feel great. First World Cup, 20 years old, I feel great. Unbelievable.”

Despite the historic win, Donovan said that he had no plans to celebrate tonight. “I’m a little emotionally drained, so I’m going to rest.”

Talking like veterans

Though they clearly enjoyed the moment, Donovan and Beasley were sure to keep a cool head and not lose perspective on the rest of the tournament.

“You want to remember that it was just the first game,” said Donovan. “Everybody tends to get excited, and you don’t want to take it for more than it is.”

Beasley noted that the US had room for improvement. “Our set pieces were not as great as we wanted them to be, but we just have to go back to the drawing board and work on it. We need to keep the ball. We missed Claudio in the middle, but at the same time I thought we did well as a team and we held very tight.”

Very tight indeed for two kids who can’t even buy a beer in the States.

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