[USA-AZERBAIJAN]Azerbaijan, the USA's first sparring partner in its three-game series of World Cup warmup matches, will provide a yardstick for what lies ahead as it has faced two of the USA's three World Cup opponents in the last two qualifying cycles. It also happens to be coached by Berti Vogts, recently hired by Jurgen Klinsmann as a special advisor for the Brazil 2014 campaign.
Azerbaijan, which has been training in the Bay Area ahead of Tuesday's game at San Francisco's Candlestick Park, finished fourth in its group for World Cup 2014 qualifying behind Russia, Portugal and Israel but ahead of Northern Ireland and Luxembourg. Portugal, which will face the USA June 22 in Manaus, beat Azerbaijan in their two meetings 2-0 and 3-0.
Azerbaijan played Germany, which faces the USA June 26 in Recife, in Euro 2012 qualifying and also lost both games, 6-1 and 3-1.
Azerbaijan's strength is its defense as it only conceded 11 goals in 10 World Cup 2014 qualifiers. Besides the Portugal away game -- a 3-0 loss -- Vogts' team never conceded more than one goal on the road.
Azerbaijan's defensive resilience should come as no surprise as Vogts is one of Germany's all-time great backs, having started on the 1974 World Cup championship team. He has just completed his third two-year term as Azerbaijan's head coach.
Klinsmann and Vogts go back to Vogts' eight-year tenure as German national team coach. Vogts was the head coach when Germany won its last title, the Euro 1996 championship, but he was also the head coach when Germany failed to get past the quarterfinals at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, which Klinsmannsays "we screwed up."
Vogts, who later recommended Klinsmann for the German World Cup 2006 coaching job, the first coaching job of Klinsmann's career, said the U.S. coach did not ask that Azerbaijan do anything special tactically in Tuesday's game.
Following Tuesday's game, Vogts will get down to work of scouting the USA's opponents. He says Ghana will pose a tough test in the opener. "The striker and the midfielders are very, very good," he told reporters on Sunday. "They're quick. They are physical."
Kamran Aghayev (Gabala)
Salahat Aghayev (Inter)
Emil Balayev (Araz-Nakhchivan)
Rashad Sadygov (Garabag)
Badavi Huseynov (Garabag)
Rasim Ramaldanov (Khazar Lankaran)
Elvin Yunuszada (Neftchi)
Shahriyar Aliyev (Baki)
Mahir Shukurov (Neftchi)
Maksim Medvedev (Garabag)
Ilkin Girtimov (Simurg)
Rahid Amirguliyev (Khazar Lankaran)
Ruslan Abishov (Rubin Kazan/RUS)
Gara Garayev (Garabag)
Abdulla Abasiyev (Inter)
Araz Abdullayev (Neftchi)
Vagif Javadov (Inter)
Rauf Aliyev (Baki)
Jihan Ozkara (Sivasspor, TUR)
Rufat Dadashov (Kaiserslautern II, GER)
Dmitri Nazarov (Karlsruhe, GER)