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All That’s Left for U.S. Is to Polish Its Game

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The United States team that takes the field against Ireland in Dublin today probably will be close to the starting lineup Coach Bruce Arena will send out against Portugal in Suwon, South Korea, on June 5 in the Americans’ opening game of the World Cup.

Arena’s probable lineup against Ireland features Brad Friedel in goal behind a back line of Tony Sanneh, Gregg Berhalter, Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos.

In midfield, Chris Armas will handle the defensive chores while Claudio Reyna sets up the offense, flanked by Earnie Stewart on the right and John O’Brien wide left.

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Clint Mathis, who has scored five goals in the last seven games, and Brian McBride will be the forwards.

The only question Tuesday was whether Agoos or Greg Vanney would play at left back in place of David Regis, out because of a sprained knee.

Ireland, which will play Cameroon, Germany and Saudi Arabia in the first round of the World Cup, has not been beaten at home in almost two years.

Still, Coach Mick McCarthy is aware that the Americans could end that streak.

“They’re the 13th-best team in the world, according to the [FIFA] rankings, which is better than us,” he told Reuters on Tuesday. The Irish are ranked 18th.

“The U.S. has a much-improved team, compared to the last two times we played them [3-1 and 2-1 U.S. victories in 1992 and 1996, respectively], and when I first played them [a 1-1 tie in 1991].

“Their players have gotten better, they’re better organized. More of them are playing in Europe for better teams, and that has improved them collectively.”

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The U.S. is 2-3-1 all-time against the Irish, having suffered all three losses in Dublin.

Arena’s team is 7-2-1 this year, but has lost both times it has played in Europe, 1-0 to Italy on Feb. 13 and 4-2 to Germany on March 27.

The American starting lineups for those games were not as strong as this one, however, and Arena expects to see improvement in the team’s final overseas game before the World Cup.

“We need to turn around that sloppy performance we had against Germany,” he said, in a way, contradicting something he had said last week.

“In the big scheme of things,” he told an on-line chat show last Thursday, “this result is not important. The significant results will come June 5-14 in Korea.”

Before today’s game, Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, and Steve Staunton, a former Irish national team player, will present a check for $264,100 to New York City fire fighters Kevin Gallagher and Jack Ginty on behalf on victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

The money comes from the Irish players, who donated their fees from a game against Denmark in March, from a collection taken among fans at that game, and from the Irish soccer federation.

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Denmark’s soccer federation received a bomb threat, warning against “a huge explosion” if today’s game between Denmark and Israel goes ahead as planned in Copenhagen.

According to federation spokesman Lars Berendt, an anonymous letter received late Monday and written in Danish stated that “both spectators and the Danish World Cup players will be in danger.” It closed with the words, “Free Palestine.” Because of the Mideast crisis, extra security measure already had been put in place for the game.

Citing “new evidence,” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Tuesday lifted a one-year ban that had been imposed on former Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas Nkono after a bizarre scuffle with police at the African Nations Cup in Mali in February.

Nkono was Cameroon’s goalkeeper at the 1982 and 1990 World Cups and is now his country’s goalkeeping coach. Before a semifinal against the host nation, he was dragged from the field, kicking and screaming, his track suit pants around his ankles, by policeman, who accused him of dropping “magic” on the field.

A CAF spokesman later said that Nkono had not been wearing the proper accreditation, and that that, not witchcraft, had been the reason for his expulsion.

Jesus Gil, the controversial president of Atletico Madrid and mayor of the Mediterranean resort of Marbella, was sent to prison by a Spanish high court judge Tuesday in an anti-corruption crackdown.

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Prosecutors had charged Gil with appropriating $26.4 million in municipal funds for his own and the club’s use. Two weeks ago, the high court barred Gil from holding public office for 28 years for breach of trust and influence-peddling. That sentence is under appeal.

England’s Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson named Liverpool striker Michael Owen, 22, captain for today’s warmup against Paraguay in place of the injured David Beckham, but said he expects Beckham to have recovered in time to reclaim his position.

“For the World Cup, I refuse today to think that Beckham is not there, so I have never thought about who is going to be the captain against Sweden on June 2,” Eriksson said.

Striker El Hadji Ousseynou Diouf, who helped lead Senegal to its first World Cup, was named African Footballer of the Year over Samuel Osei Kuffour of Ghana.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

*--* World Cup Warmups Schedule of today’s exhibition games involving World Cup participants (host team listed first, World Cup teams are capitalized): Game Site Austria vs. CAMEROON Vienna BELGIUM vs. Slovakia Brussels CROATIA vs. Bosnia Zagreb DENMARK vs. Israel Copenhagen ENGLAND vs. PARAGUAY Liverpool FRANCE vs. RUSSIA Paris GERMANY vs. ARGENTINA Stuttgart IRELAND vs. UNITED STATES Dublin ITALY vs. URUGUAY Milan JAPAN vs. COSTA RICA Yokohama MEXICO vs. Bulgaria E. Rutherford, N.J Northern Ireland vs. SPAIN Belfast Norway vs. SWEDEN Oslo POLAND vs. Romania Warsaw PORTUGAL vs. BRAZIL Lisbon Scotland vs. NIGERIA Aberdeen SLOVENIA vs. TUNISIA Ljubljana S. AFRICA vs. ECUADOR Murcia, Spain TURKEY vs. Chile Kerkrade, Netherlands

*--*

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