LONDON -- U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati believes the Americans can win next year's World Cup.
The U.S. is ranked 11th but a world title is not so farfetched, Gulati said, if you consider the Americans beat European champion Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals in June and led Brazil by two goals at halftime in the final before eventually losing.
"It's not an American arrogance that we think we can win it. It's a confidence of: 'Why would we play if we didn't have a shot?" Gulati told The Associated Press on Friday. "If I had a coach saying we had no chance of winning it, why would you have him as a coach?
"I'm being deadly serious. Why would be bother going if we didn't think we could win it?"
Not even England coach Fabio Capello, trying to win the country's first title since the 1966 World Cup, is prepared to make such a prediction. However, Gulati said that while the U.S. has to dream to can win the tournament, intellectually he knows the U.S. still has a way to go to consistently reach soccer's upper echelon.
For now, the most pressing task for the U.S. team is to secure a place in the tournament in its final two qualifiers.
The United States leads North and Central America and the Caribbean qualifying, followed by Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica. The top three teams qualify, and the fourth-place finisher meets South American's fifth-place team in a two-legged playoff.
Even if the Americans lose or draw in Honduras on Saturday, avoiding defeat against Costa Rica on Wednesday in Washington would send them to South Africa and a sixth straight World Cup.
"I am confident of qualifying, but it's not a foregone conclusion," Gulati said. "Honduras is 8-0 at home in the last year and a half, and we're playing them at home. Mexico has gone there and lost.
"These are tough games, and playing in Honduras would be a tough game for England, France or Germany. This will be a tough game."
It promises to be even tougher at the actual tournament, although the momentum from the Confederations Cup is a source of inspiration.
"Did we have the players to beat Spain? If I'd asked you that question before, you'd have said no -- but we beat Spain," Gulati said. "Would we have the players to be leading Brazil 2-0 at halftime? But we did. We will go there with a group of players that have belief."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press