An elephant on the road to Rustenburg impeded the United States progress towards training last night and the side's coach Bob Bradley later acknowledged that getting past England this evening was dependent on halting the bull of a striker called Wayne Rooney.
Asked if silencing the England No 10 was the key to progress in the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Bradley replied: "I would agree with that. He's such an important player in their team and he comes here off a super season. Our ability to keep track of him and make life hard for him is a key part of us making sure we can win."
But Bradley's side do not fear England pulling up trees any more than they did that elephant they encountered eating one, inside the wild game reserve where their hotel is located. Bradley, who has announced that the Hull City striker Jozy Altidore will lead his attack, told an American radio network yesterday that he expected to beat England and last night made it clear that this was no slip of the tongue. "I was asked the question: 'Do I expect to win' and I said: 'Yes because the work we've put in, and what we believe in with our team, we step on to the field believing we can win.' It's said with no disrespect to our opponent. It will take a strong, strong effort on our part, but the preparation has been good and the feeling is the players are ready to go. We're stepping on to the field with the idea to win."
Victory over Fabio Capello's side would not be the surprise it was when the US beat Walter Winterbottom's men 1-0 in the Brazil 1950 finals, or Graham Taylor's in 1993, Bradley insisted. While England were remembering the 1950 game – goalkeeper Bert Williams has been awarded the MBE – Bradley was moving on. "[Winning] wouldn't be a surprise like some of the victories in the past. We've earned more and more respect. We prepare for every team properly, and we have a great amount of respect for England. But, on the inside, we feel good about the way we've grown as a team and we've been looking forward to this opportunity since the draw."
There was bemusement among some US writers that Capello did not acknowledge specific threats in the opposition more fully and captain Carlos Bocanegra laughed off one of the British headlines which suggested an English complacency. "You just have to laugh at those papers sometimes... We don't look too much into that," he said.
There was certainly a calm dignity last night about Bradley – opening his press conference impressively, with condolences for Nelson Mandela – which contrasted with the tension displayed both by Rooney and Capello in the past six days. The US inner calm has been helped by reliving the routines of last year; staying in the same hotel and making the same journey to Rustenburg tonight that they took to play and beat Egypt 3-0 en route to the Confederations Cup final. "We stayed at the same hotel last time," Bocanegra recalled. "It's familiar coming back here. I remember Clint [Dempsey's] goal at the far post. We were joking a bit about that. It's always nice to come back to a place where you have good memories."
In a US interview yesterday, Landon Donovan characterised his press conferences with British writers as a minefield, with the incendiary devices being questions aimed at luring him into controversy. "They are all trying to get you to say something and try to provoke you in some way. It is pretty interesting for a lot of our guys that haven't dealt with that before," he said of a phenomenon he described as "tabloidism". But Donovan's far more significant battle, if he starts on the right tonight, will be with Ashley Cole, whom he will encounter for the first time since his challenge broke the Chelsea left-back's right ankle at Stamford Bridge in February.
Donovan's compatriot Charlie Davies, the striker who was left out of Bradley's squad, got to know Cole after the injury, when the two were recuperating at the same time at a clinic in Capbreton, in France, where Cole told him that one of his prime motivations in getting back to full fitness in time for the World Cup was the chance to face Donovan again, in Rustenburg. "Not only does he want to get back because it's the World Cup, but especially because Landon was the one who broke his ankle," said Davies.
Rooney is the prime concern, though. A sign near the US hotel reads: "Elephants come close to our fence. Please keep a distance of 30 metres." The same rules cannot apply to the England strikers.
The Enemy Within: Rival fans around britain give their views
Donald Maynard, 47, US embassy worker in London, originally from Virginia
I'm looking at two attacking players, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan to be the stand-out players for the USA tonight. It's difficult to pick out a weak link in either side but I'll go for England's Ledley King. He isn't usually a first-choice player and he should be kept busy by our players; I'm hoping to see lots of attacking play and overlapping runs, putting a lot of pressure on him, so he could be forced into making a mistake and we could then capitalise on it.
I think it's going to be a really tight game: both sides are strong but I feel we can edge the game. I'll say we'll win it 2-1, hopefully Dempsey or Donovan can get themselves on the score sheet.
I'm really excited; I can't wait for it to start. It's easy to get caught up in the euphoria and the atmosphere, especially with all the flags and the noise, you just can't help it. I heard a little story that will add a bit extra to the match, not that it needs it. A British ambassador and an American ambassador from Washington have wagered a steak dinner on the outcome of the game so it will be interesting to see what happens with that!
Interview by Matthew ScottReuse content