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Howard on Slovenia win prediction: 'Talk is cheap'

IRENE, South Africa (AP) — 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 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. A win would go a long way toward putting the Americans in the knockout phase, and a defeat would pretty much eliminate the U.S.

Defender Oguchi Onyewu was amused by the bold assertion of Komac, a Slovenian midfielder.

"It's definitely a premature comment to make," he said. "I don't think a U.S. player would make a comment like that."

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 was down in pain for several minutes before resuming. He needed an injection of painkiller at halftime.

"Tim's a fighter, and when he got back up, I was happy and I'm sure everybody else around in America was," Onyewu said.

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. You can't account for that. You get on the field and your mind is focused on the game. It takes away from the pain and listen, we've got plenty of pain meds and injections and all that type of stuff, which will help keep my mind of it, as well."

The 31-year-old hasn't gone for any medical scans.

"If the docs and the medical team felt like I needed it, I would certainly do that," he said. "Not knowing is probably better."

He's been treated with cold and with steam in an effort to decrease swelling and desensitize the area, but not much can be done for a rib injury.

"It's a really bad kick, and so in the next few days, if I have to go full stretch, which hopefully I don't, and end up landing on it too hard, then it might set me back. But we've got plenty of padding and plenty of ideas on how to stop that. I won't be stupid with it, at least I don't think I will be."

And there's one treatment that will help him right before the game.

"I'm kind of looking forward to those injections," he said.

For all his success as a goalkeeper with the United States and in England with Everton, Howard strangely had no great desire to play the position. He got involved in youth soccer because his mother wanted him involved in baseball, basketball and soccer to get him out of the house, and he was a high school basketball star in New Jersey.

"I don't like being goalie. Even now I don't," he said. "I never enjoy playing, even in games. I enjoy the buildup sometimes, and I certainly enjoy afterwards, but it's way too intense. I'd like to play midfield, holding midfielder, breaking up plays and passing to the more-talented guys."