England to go up against USA at World Cup

December 4, 2009 9:51:49 PM PST
Landon Donovan repeated the words, unable to wipe the smile from his face.

"It never ends," he said.

The American midfielder and England star David Beckham may be forever linked by their tumultuous time together with the Los Angeles Galaxy. And just when they seemed to have fully embraced the idea of playing for the same MLS team, Friday's World Cup draw put the United States against England in their opening match in South Africa next June.

Indeed, their story never seems to end.

"I wish we could have got a shot of his face as that happened," said Donovan, who promised to text Beckham in the start of playful banter sure to consume the next six months. "I'm sure he was thinking the same thing, to play against your own teammate is obviously pretty incredible."

Their conversations haven't always been playful, though, and Donovan didn't always smile when he heard Beckham's name.

Two of the brightest stars on two different continents have had a tenuous relationship ever since Donovan's comments this year in Grant Wahl's "The Beckham Experiment."

The highly critical book, in which Donovan ripped the England midfielder's leadership and effort, chronicled Beckham's first two seasons with the Galaxy. Donovan eventually apologized for airing his thoughts in public, and the two tamped down the potential locker room division enough to lead the Galaxy to the MLS Cup final this season.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of talking before the tournament starts," Donovan said of the World Cup, where the U.S. and England are joined by Algeria and Slovenia in Group C.

"We talked about seeing each other there and hoping we're both there. I don't think it entered our mind that we might be playing each other."

Former national team coach Bruce Arena called it "stupid" to make anything of their first-round matchup. He served as the peacemaker when he coached the Galaxy this season.

"The only story is that they're teammates, that's all it is. They're two guys with the greatest respect for each other," Arena said. "There's nothing else to discuss."

That didn't stop current national coach Bob Bradley from weighing in.

"I think that this game will have many different story lines," he said. "The fact that Landon and David are teammates is a very good one."

Teammates who apparently work quite well together when they're not bickering.

The crisp passing of Beckham and Donovan set up the Galaxy's first goal in the MLS final two weeks ago, although Donovan -- the league's MVP -- became a non-factor until the shootout and Beckham struggled through discomfort from a bone bruise in his right foot.

Beckham later scored in the shootout against Real Salt Lake, but it was Donovan's miss moments later that made headlines as the Galaxy lost 5-4 on penalty kicks.

"To have David and Landon playing against each other wearing opposite jerseys is just going to be a terrific story and something that I think the entire country will get excited about," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "It will probably be one of the most exciting and anticipated games of the World Cup."

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said the meeting could help raise the profile of Major League Soccer, which counts Donovan and Beckham as its two biggest stars.

"The league will be under a microscope," he said. "We'll all be under a microscope because of the English media's interest, David's presence in the league, his teammate Landon and so on."

Beckham plans to report on time Dec. 28 to start his second consecutive season on loan to AC Milan, something he initially did to help maintain his fitness for the World Cup. There are rumors Donovan may do the same, although he declined to say for certain.

The career leader in national team appearances, goals and assists, Donovan did say that if he remains in Los Angeles, having Beckham playing for the Italian club would help dim the harsh spotlight surrounding their budding rivalry.

"England's a very good team and we'll see how the rest plays out," he said, rocking backward on a stool and slapping his hands on a soccer ball. "In lots of ways it's a great matchup and it should be exciting. Lots of story lines, that's for sure."

One that stands out more than any other.


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