If its 2009 schedule does not prepare the U.S. men's national soccer team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, nothing will.
Coach Bob Bradley on Saturday learned that the Americans not only will open the final phase of World Cup qualifying against Mexico on Feb. 11, but will play reigning world champion Italy and five-time world champion Brazil in June.
The latter games will be part of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, where the U.S. also will play African champion Egypt in the first round.
The draws for the Confederations Cup and for the final round of regional qualifying for the World Cup were held Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa, and left the U.S. with the most challenging year possible.
"It's a very strong group," Bradley said. "We know we will be tested a great deal."
In addition to 10 World Cup qualifying games and at least three Confederations Cup games, the U.S. will try to repeat its title in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, the schedule for which has yet to be determined.
While the U.S. is in a tough Confederations Cup group, European champion Spain received an easy draw and will play host South Africa, Asian champion Iraq and Oceania champion New Zealand in the first round of the June 14-28 tournament.
The event is being played in four of the 10 World Cup venues: Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria and the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg.
In World Cup qualifying, the top three teams will advance to South Africa 2010 and the fourth-place finisher will go into a playoff against South America's fifth-place finisher for a spot in the World Cup.
Bradley liked that the U.S. will open and close at home against what will probably be its strongest opponents.
"The expectation is always that the last round will be very competitive, and certainly when you look at this schedule, opening at home with Mexico and finishing at home with Costa Rica, it's a good test," he said.
The sites for the U.S. home games will be determined later.
*--* Date Opponent Site Game Jan. 24 Sweden Carson F Feb. 11 Mexico Home WCQ March 28 El Salvador Away WCQ April 1 Trinidad & Tobago Home WCQ June 3 Costa Rica Away WCQ June 6 Honduras Home WCQ June 15 Italy Pretoria CC June 18 Brazil Pretoria CC June 21 Egypt Rustenburg CC Aug. 12 Mexico Away WCQ Sept. 5 El Salvador Home WCQ Sept. 9 Trinidad & Tobago Away WCQ Oct. 10 Honduras Away WCQ Oct. 14 Costa Rica Home WCQ *--*
F -- Friendly
WCQ -- World Cup Qualifying
CC -- Confederations Cup