But while victory is a must for the Americans, a draw would be enough to put Egypt through to the semifinals if Brazil beats Italy in the other group game.
The Pharoahs’ success may be a surprise to those who predicted Brazil and Italy would coast through to the next round, but the players have always been confident after winning the last two editions of the African Cup of Nations.
“This is like what we did together at the Nations Cup the last two times in Egypt and in Ghana, and now we’re seeing the same thing in South Africa here,” Egypt forward Mohamed Zidan said. “We are having enough time to prepare well for the games and the coaching staff are also having time to prepare the players.”
For Egypt and the United States, the tournament has been a tale of how teams react to opening setbacks.
While Egypt seemed to draw inspiration from its narrow 4-3 loss to Brazil in order to shock Italy 1-0, the United States played well in a 10-man loss to Italy but then buckled against Brazil.
“In these kind of events, it’s no different to the World Cup,” United States coach Bob Bradley said. “Many of the players have just finished their own seasons and they can be in all different frames of mind. You come together and something can happen in that first game or two and rally everybody and push the team on and be the spark.
“Or it can easily be: now it doesn’t go right, there’s a little extra pressure, guys start to get nervous.”
The United States needs victory and goal difference to swing its way by a barely conceivable amount if it is to edge its way into the next round. But that doesn’t mean Bradley is about to employ a gung-ho attack to secure those goals.
“It’s not always that you can count up the numbers and put the guys up who have scored the most goals on the field together,” Bradley said. “It’s got to still be a collective way to collect chances, to be dangerous.”
What the United States needs to do is score an early goal, not concede one as it did in its 3-0 loss to Brazil on Thursday.
“The key in any of these situations is getting a goal at the right time, feeling like there’s a little momentum,” Bradley said. “Maybe the other team is forced to open up and from there maybe you can take advantage.”
Bradley said he had yet to decide how many changes to make to the team that lost to Brazil, although the suspension of midfielder Sacha Kljestan for his second-half red card means there will be at least one—and probably more.
The Egyptians’ success has been built upon the sort of hard running and stamina often associated with teams in England’s Premier League, with a defense backed up by the standout goalkeeping of Essam El Hadary.
Zidan and Mohamed Aboutrika have switched position to constantly occupy both Brazil and Italy, with Zidan particularly prominent in scoring twice against Brazil.
“It’s the pure commitment, the running they’re doing for each other, just the physical effort that they’re putting into every game,” Bradley said. “Physically, they’re a talented team. They’re athletic. They work very hard and there’s no tactical magic to make up for that.”