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Donovan to fulfill national service

Galaxy star missed the Olympics so he could play in World Cup qualifier at Guatemala tonight, but he might've been able to do both.

August 20, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Landon Donovan now has to show that the decision to exclude him from the U.S. men's Olympic soccer team was the right one.

The Galaxy forward was purposely left off the Olympic roster so that he would be free to play against Guatemala in Guatemala City tonight when qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa resumes.

As it turned out, U.S. players Sacha Kljestan, Brad Guzan, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley all went to China and made it back in time for tonight's World Cup match, so Donovan's exclusion served no purpose other than to harm U.S. Olympic chances.

Had the national team's all-time leading goal scorer been chosen for Beijing, odds are that the U.S. would have made it out of the first round, which it came very close to doing.

Of course, that would have meant Donovan's missing the Guatemala match, and the U.S. coaching staff opted to play it conservatively, even though the Central Americans hardly pose a significant threat.

So, from the American perspective, the Olympics are now history and the focus is on getting to South Africa. Toward that end, U.S. Coach Bob Bradley has selected a veteran roster, with every one of the 18 players having World Cup qualifying experience.

The game (7 p.m., on ESPN2 and Galavision) will not be particularly easy. It has been 20 years since the one and only U.S. victory in Guatemala, and while the Americans are 4-0-4 against the Guatemalans in World Cup qualifying play, the four victories have all come in the U.S.

"We know Guatemala are a very difficult team to play at home," said Bradley, who has compiled a 16-7-3 record since taking over the national team from now-Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena after the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Donovan, with 36 goals in 101 games for the U.S., will be up against Guatemala national Carlos Ruiz, who was traded by the Galaxy this week, in the game at Estadio Mateo Flores.

The match is one of six World Cup qualifiers being played in the North and Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region today.

Mexico will play its first match under former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, who has recalled veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire to the national team for the first time since the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela.

"I'm happy to be back," said Blanco, 35. "I've been considered by a new coach. The fight for a starting place will be tough, so the team will benefit. Our goal is to win all our games at home."

Mexico opens the semifinal round of qualifying against Honduras at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City (6 p.m., Telemundo).

Other regional qualifying matches today feature Canada against Jamaica in Toronto, Cuba playing Trinidad and Tobago in Havana, Costa Rica at home to El Salvador and Haiti playing Surinam in Port-au-Prince.

The top two teams in each four-team group will advance to the final qualifying round in 2009.

Among the interesting friendly internationals being played today ahead of World Cup qualifying games next month are England (with David Beckham) taking on the Czech Republic in London; world champion Italy (in its first match under returning Coach Marcelo Lippi) playing Austria in Nice, France; and European champion Spain going up against Denmark in Copenhagen.

Also, Russia hosts the Netherlands in Moscow in a rematch of their Euro 2008 quarterfinal; France (with Thierry Henry as captain) plays Sweden in Gothenburg; Ukraine hosts Poland; Germany plays Belgium in Nuremburg, and Colombia plays Ecuador at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.


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