CHICAGO (Tuesday, January 29, 2002) - The United States Men's National Team has finalized a trio of World Cup preparation matches against traditional world powers Italy, Germany and Ireland in Europe across the next three months. The U.S. first meets Italy on February 13 at the Stadio Cibali in Catania, Sicily, at 2:45 p.m. ET / 8:45 p.m. local (U.S. television TBD), before facing Germany in Rostock at the Ostseestadion on March 27 in a match which will be televised delayed on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET. The U.S. wraps up the trio of matches against Europe's best on April 17 with a match against Ireland in Dublin live on ESPN2 at 2:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. local time). All three matches will be available on ussoccer.com's popular MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.
Collectively, the three matches represent arguably the best European-based World Cup preparation games in U.S. Soccer history. Between them, the three opponents have won six World Cup championships and finished as World Cup runner-ups five times.
"Italy, Germany and Ireland are three of the most respected soccer-playing nations in the world," said U.S. head coach Bruce Arena. "To have the opportunity to play them prior to the World Cup will be an invaluable experience for our team. It will certainly give us a chance to gauge our ability to play against the some of the world's toughest opponents."
The United States and Italy have met just four times in their history, with the Italians holding a 2-0-2 record against the U.S. The first meeting between the sides took place in 1934 at the second World Cup, and the Italians cruised to a 7-1 win in Rome. The capital city also hosted the teams' second meeting in a World Cup, when Italy topped a young U.S. team 1-0 on June 14, 1990. The teams' most recent match took place on June 6, 1992 in Chicago, with the teams battling to a 1-1 draw.
Italy has lifted the World Cup three times, most recently in 1982, and is ranked sixth overall in the world by FIFA. The Italians also reached the finals of the 1994 World Cup, losing to Brazil in penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl. Led by veteran captain Paolo Maldini, the Azzurri qualified for their 15th World Cup and will appear in their 11th straight tournament in Korea / Japan. They finished in second place in the 2000 European championships, falling in extra-time of the championship match to current World Champions France. In 2002, the Italians world-renowned defense allowed just two goals as the team finished atop Group 8 in UEFA World Cup qualifying with a 6-0-2 record. Italy boasts a dizzying array of attacking options, led in qualifying by A.C. Milan's Filippo Inzaghi, Inter Milan's Christian Vieri and Juventus' Alessandro del Piero. The Azzurri are coached by Giovanni Trapattoni, the most successful club coach in Italian history, who has won seven Serie A championships.
Currently ranked 11th in the FIFA World Rankings, Germany boasts similar credentials to Italy, holding three World Cup titles and qualifying for their 15th overall World Cup finals. The Germans last captured the title in Italy 1990 and are the only team in history to reach the championship game in three straight tournaments (1982, 1986, 1990). In addition, they are three-time winners of the European Championship (1972, 1980 & 1996.)
Retired German international forward Rudi Voller has moved to the coaching box and led the resurgence of the German national team, guiding them to second place in Group Nine of UEFA World Cup qualifying. The German side is led on the field by goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, arguably the finest goalkeeper in the world.
The March 27 match marks the first USA-Germany game on German soil since the country's unification. The U.S. and Germany became familiar foes in the 1990s, playing seven times (including two U.S. matches against East Germany). The U.S. has shutout Germany in their last two encounters, beating the three-time World Cup winners 2-0 on Feb. 6, 1999, in Jacksonville, Fla., and 2-0 on July 30, 1999, at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The win in Mexico was one the USA's most surprising wins of the 1990s. Not needing a win to advance to the semifinals, Bruce Arena rested much of his roster, and then watched Ben Olsen and Joe-Max Moore each tally goals for the U.S. as they downed a nearly full-strength German team.
The U.S. first faced Ireland in 1924, in just the sixth Men's National Team game in U.S. Soccer history. More recently, the U.S. and Ireland drew 1-1 in the 2000 Nike U.S. Cup. Prior to the 1-1 deadlock, the U.S. had posted consecutive wins over the Irish, topping them 3-1 on May 30, 1992, and 2-1 on June 9, 1996. The U.S. has never won in Ireland, getting outscored in three losses in Dublin 10-4. The last match in Dublin took place on April 29, 1992, and the Irish downed the U.S. in a 4-1 Ireland win.
Ireland is led by Manchester United's Roy Keane, Leeds United's Robbie Keane (unrelated) and Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given. Mick McCarthy's team went undefeated in Europe's Group 2 qualifying, a difficult group that included Portugal and the Netherlands. Portugal, who the U.S. will face on June 5 in the team's World Cup opener, and Ireland drew in both of their qualifying matches. Led by Given, Ireland possesses one of Europe's top defenses and surrendered just five goals in qualifying, the fourth-lowest total in Europe.
After finishing second in Group 2, the Irish advanced to face Iran in a two-legged play-off. The Irish topped Iran 2-1 in aggregate, including a huge 2-0 win in Dublin, to advance to just their third World Cup.
The U.S. is currently competing in the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and have also scheduled domestic matches on March 2 against Honduras in Seattle and March 10 against Ecuador in Birmingham, Ala.