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Win over Slovenia critical for U.S.

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard is ready despite sore ribs.  (Associated Press)
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard is ready despite sore ribs. (Associated Press)

IRENE, South Africa – Tim Howard thought about Andrej Komac’s prediction of victory for Slovenia and chuckled.

“I think talk is cheap,” the American goalkeeper said Wednesday. “He’s got to stand toe to toe. And they’ve got to stand toe to toe with us for 90 minutes. And if he’s still standing, then I’ll take my hat off to him. But a lot of boxers talk, too, and they’re looking up at the lights. And the next thing they know, they’re trying to figure out how they got there.”

All the focus might have been on last Saturday’s World Cup opener against England, but Friday’s (7 a.m. PDT) game against Slovenia will be more important in determining whether the United States reaches the second round for the first time since 2002.

Slovenia leads Group C with three points following a 1-0 win over Algeria, and the U.S. and England are tied for second with one point apiece after drawing 1-1. Slovenia has a population of just over 2 million and is the third-smallest nation ever to play at the World Cup, larger than only Trinidad and Tobago, and Northern Ireland. According to Howard, Komac’s statement was understandable, given how far Slovenia has come.

“That means nothing to us,” he said. “We know that they’re probably feeling confident after getting the three points, and rightfully so.”

Howard was injured in the first half of Saturday’s game when Emile Heskey’s boot struck him in the ribs below the breastbone, near the arm.

Howard said he’ll be ready to face Slovenia.

“Time is a good healer. I’ve had a few days. It’s just going to be sensitive, but as you know, if you play at the highest level, I think you have to play through injuries,” he said. “It’s sore. I believe in, as I said before, in adrenaline being the great equalizer.”