US prodigies ready for the big time
They come from different parts of the world, but teenage sensations Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu will hope to bond in time so they can spearhead the United States' campaign for a gold medal in Beijing.
And the first step will be taken at the Hong Kong Stadium tonight when they come up against Ivory Coast in the opening game of the ING Cup.
Altidore and Adu are two key components for US coach Peter Nowak, who hopes the pair, and the rest of the 18-strong team, will be able to mesh together as one fighting force in Hong Kong.
'The most important thing about the ING Cup is, it offers us the chance to blend two different groups, one from Major League Soccer and those who are playing in Europe, as one unit. This tournament is all about bonding and building team spirit,' said Nowak.
Looking ahead to the main goal, Nowak added: 'It is important we have 18 great players, as well as 18 great friends. If this happens, they will fight for each other at the Olympics.'
Altidore, 18, will be joining Spanish league runners-up Villarreal after the Olympics. He was signed last month for a US-record transfer fee of US$10 million from MLS side New York Red Bulls.
'My role will definitely be a scorer of some sort, but you have to be able to help your team in a lot of ways,' said Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti.
Adu, 19, is already in Europe. After signing for Portuguese giants Benfica last year, the midfielder joined French club AS Monaco on loan for the 2008-09 season.
Nowak will also be able to rely on the experience of Brian McBride, who is making a comeback on the international stage after retiring in 2006.
The 36-year-old McBride has played in three World Cups and his prowess in front of the goal - he has scored 30 goals for his country - will make him a useful asset.
Opponents Ivory Coast will present a formidable challenge. The squad includes forwards Salomon Kalou of Chelsea and Gervinho of Le Mans. Inspired by Didier Drogba and the national team, who made their World Cup debut in Germany 2006, the 'Young Elephants' will be hoping to earn more kudos.
'Qualifying for the Olympics was massive and provides continuity for the country's achievements on the world stage,' said Ivory Coast coach Gerard Gili.
The four-team tournament also includes Cameroon and the Netherlands who meet in the second game tonight.
Jozy Altidore joined Villarreal for a US-record transfer fee of: $10m