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Slovakia faces United States in World Cup warm-up

AFTER successfully completing their qualifying campaigns, Slovakia and the United States kick off their World Cup preparations in a friendly today.

Both teams secured qualification for next year's tournament in South Africa by winning their qualifying groups.

It will be the first meeting between the sides since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993 following the split of Czechoslovakia. Prior to that, some Slovaks played the U.S. team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy where Czechoslovakia won 5-1.

Slovakia upset favorites Czech Republic and Poland in their European qualifying group to reach a major tournament for the first time in its history. The United States finished top in CONCACAF qualifying to advance to its sixth consecutive World Cup since 1990.

"It's an opportunity for us to test us and to take our game or our way of playing to try to play this way against a very good opponent," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.

"It does give an opportunity to use all the substitutes, an opportunity to look at some new players, that's important," he added.

The U.S. team is 11th in the FIFA rankings, Slovakia is 33rd.

"We know who we're facing," Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said. "The Unites States is high in the rankings. They managed to beat Spain recently. It will be a decent test for us."

The U.S. surprised many when it reached the final at the eight-team Confederations Cup tournament in June in South Africa, which served as a World Cup test event. In the process, the Americans beat a strong Spain team 2-0 before losing 3-2 to favorite Brazil.

"These matches present a terrific opportunity to continue building on the nucleus of our team, and at the same time evaluate more of the player pool against very good opponents," Bradley said.

The U.S. has played 22 internationals this year and won 13, while losing six and drawing three.

"We are very pleased with what we have accomplished in a long and challenging year, and we move forward with the goal of getting ourselves ready to be a competitive team in the World Cup," he said.

"We have certain ideas that we believe in and the way we play but it's important to have some tactical flexibility so these games offer a chance to also look at some slight variations," Bradley added.

Against Slovakia, he will have to do without key forward and leading scorer Landon Donovan who will be with his Los Angeles Galaxy team when it faces Houston yesterday in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

"Landon is a very important player but when we (talk) about the opportunity to see different variations, then tomorrow we have a chance to play without Landon, to see some other players, because you always want to be prepared for the day when you have to make adjustments, maybe because of injury or suspension," Bradley said.

U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said the match was important for players trying to make the World Cup team.

"We have a chance to go out and prove ourselves every time we play in front of the coach and try to win our spots for the World Cup," he said.

Slovakia and Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel said he was impressed by the U.S. team's play.

"At the Confederations Cup, we could see they're responsible in the defense," Skrtel said. "They're ready to strike with quick counterattacks."

Skrtel echoed Bocanegra and said every player knows a place on the World Cup team is at stake.

"Only the best could travel to the World Cup," he said. "Everyone will be doing his best to prove that he belongs to the team."

Both coaches also confirmed yesterday that their sons - Michael Bradley and Vladimir Weiss - will make the starting lineup today.

"They're young players that must earn the respect from their teammates and the coaches," Bradley said.

Slovakia face Chile on Tuesday in Zilina in another World Cup warm-up, while the U.S. plays Denmark in Aarhus on Wednesday.


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