In 2010, few had Uruguay picked to make a big impact at the World Cup in South Africa. Yes, the team had talented strikers in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, and an experienced coach in Oscar Tabarez. But, it lacked big-match experience, barely qualified for the World Cup thanks to an intercontinental playoff, and prepared for their trip to South Africa with only one public friendly –a 4-1 win over minnows Israel. That game in Montevideo saw Forlan and Suarez play together for a single half.
The lopsided matchup might make one think that Uruguay went to South Africa unprepared, without facing a true test before the bright lights came on. The lack of time on the field in a real game situation might indicate that the Uruguayans were not entirely on the same page. All that might be true, but in the end, none of it mattered. There's only so much you can glean from pre-World Cup activities. Uruguay went on to place third in South Africa.
That, according to Michael Bradley, is part of the reason the U.S. isn't too concerned about Ghana's 4-0 result over South Korea in Miami on Monday night.
"It would be easy to look at the end and say,'4-0, what a performance’," Bradley said. "But still you know it’s a warm-up game, and regardless of how the game went last night, we have a lot of respect for Ghana."
It’s not just that pre-World Cup friendlies give a poor indication of the level of a given team – it’s that they give no indication whatsoever. Sometimes, like in the case of Uruguay, they can reveal nothing. But in other cases, they can reveal a lot. With the benefit of hindsight, France’s 1-0 home loss to China in advance of a disastrous 2010 tournament looks like an omen of things to come.
However, for every France and Uruguay scenario, there is a Nigerian one. The Super Eagles stomped their way to an undefeated record in 2010 African World Cup qualifying with a +15 overall goal differential, and earned continually-improving results in pre-World Cup friendlies against Saudi Arabia (0-0 draw), Colombia, (1-1 draw), and North Korea (3-1 win). Then the Nigerians crashed out of a relatively easy group on their home continent, losing to Argentina and Greece before succumbing in a meek 2-2 draw with South Korea.
“In general, I think it’s hard to take much from any of these warm-up games,” Bradley said. "The teams are trying different things, different guys get put on the field in different spots.”
The theory works the opposite way, as well. Chances are Ghana (to say nothing of fellow Group G foes Germany and Portugal) probably care very little that the United States has won all three of its warm-up matches. For Bradley, that feeling extends to the United States as well.
“It’s nice to get the win, but the reality is that these games mean nothing now,” Bradley said after the USA’s Send-Off Series-closing win over Nigeria in Jacksonville last week. “You use them for what they are in the moment and you use them to sharpen up, to build some confidence, to get everybody even more fit. But the second they’re over, you move on.”
By all indications, the U.S. has done exactly that.
“We’ve certainly made no secret of the fact that all our focus at this point is about Ghana,” Bradley said after training on Tuesday. “[We’re] making sure that we do everything we can so that on June 16 we step on the field and are ready to leave it all out there knowing that a good result puts us in a really good spot.”Unlike any of the warm-up games that have taken place all over the globe in the last few weeks, this one will count.