SEOUL, South Korea -- It could be a night to remember, the biggest in the history of American soccer - and perhaps the worst for a proud German team.
The United States plays Germany on Friday for a spot in the World Cup semifinals, a game that could mark a shift in global soccer power.
Or it could prove that the U.S. team, riding its best World Cup performance in 72 years, is a valiant overachiever still short of the sport's summit.
Whatever the case, most of the pressure is clearly on the Germans, a three-time champion at soccer's premier event and a team that has made a habit of beating up on the Americans.
"The team that has to win this game is Germany," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Wednesday. "If we don't win this game, we'll be fine and we'll go home and everyone will be happy.
"I'm not sure how the German team will be doing if they lose to the U.S. They may not be heading straight back to Frankfurt after the game."
The Americans are a big underdog - 5-1, according to British bookmaker Ladbrokes. But don't tell that to Landon Donovan, a 20-year-old striker for the United States.
"I don't think we should lose to Germany," he said. "Why can't we beat them?"
Four years ago, Donovan watched the Americans' first-round World Cup game against the Germans when he was a high school sophomore in Redlands, Calif. The United States was fearful and got pushed around in a 2-0 loss.
Donovan's a pro now, and has two goals in this World Cup, in which the Americans upset Portugal and Mexico, tied South Korea and lost to Poland.
He and teammate DaMarcus Beasley, also 20, think this game against Germany will be different. With youthful spunk and ambition, they think the tournament belongs to them, that the United States should advance to the semifinals for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930.
"I want to beat them," Donovan said. "I want to be able to tell them we're a good team."
The Germans are big, physical and relentless. They've won 51 World Cup games to six for the United States. But they no longer intimidate the Americans, whose belief in themselves reached a new high following Monday's 2-0 win over Mexico.
"They are twice my weight," said Beasley, listed at 126 pounds, the lightest player in the tournament. "I can be feisty. I can push with the best of them. I'll be an ant running around."
Since that loss to Germany in Paris four years ago, the teams have met three times, with the United States winning 3-0 in a 1999 exhibition game in Florida and winning 2-0 later that year in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico. In March, Germany pounded the Americans, winning 4-2 in Rostock as Clint Mathis scored both U.S. goals.
"We got beat up in Germany a couple of months ago," said Kasey Keller, who played in goal that night. "They took it to us. We can't let that happen."
The Americans are very familiar with the foe they will face in Ulsan, on the southeast coast of South Korea. Nine of the 23 U.S. players have spent time with German teams. While the Americans are speedier, Keller and his teammates think the key to stopping their bigger opponents is to mark them tightly and match them push for push, shirt grab for shirt grab, especially on corner kicks and free kicks.
"We shut that down, I think they'll have trouble scoring a creative goal against us," Donovan said.
Germany is a soccer insider, advancing to the quarterfinals or semifinals of five straight World Cups, but losing in its last two quarterfinal games.
Miroslav Klose, tied for the World Cup scoring lead with five goals, and Carsten Jancker have been a potent force, but the scoring has trailed off since the opening 8-0 rout of Saudi Arabia. Germany needed an 88th-minute goal from Oliver Neuville to beat Paraguay in the second round.
A loss would mark a low point for the Germans, who never have been knocked out of the World Cup this early by a non-European nation.
"We must not make the same mistake we did in 1994 and 1998, when we played Bulgaria and Croatia and everyone thought the semifinals were within reach," goalkeeper Oliver Kahn said.
"They will be a very unpleasant rival. They fight a lot, like us, and they are very patriotic guys who give everything for their country. We have to be very careful."
The U.S. players don't consider themselves unpleasant - more like interlopers. Who expected the United States to reach the quarterfinals?
Arena didn't even know what to say when asked if he'd rather play Spain or South Korea if his team reaches Tuesday's semifinal. It took him a few seconds to respond.
"You are asking the coach of the United States, 'Who do you have a preference to play in the semifinals of the World Cup?"' he finally said. "We'll play anybody."
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