Altidore to Becks: USA 3, England 0

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Jozy Altidore's desire to give the United States a psychological advantage at the soccer World Cup cost him the chance to meet basketball superstar Kobe Bryant.

USA striker Altidore was in the crowd for a Los Angeles Lakers playoff game last week when he spotted England's injured midfielder David Beckham nearby – and could not resist talking some smack ahead of the World Cup clash between the nations June 12.

"I saw Becks there and I had to go over and tell him what is going to happen in South Africa," Altidore said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo! Sports. "I made sure he knows how it's going to be without him playing – USA 3, England 0.

"I was having fun with Becks and talking a bit of trash, and I forgot I was supposed to go to the locker room and meet Kobe."

Bryant, who spent much of his childhood in Europe, is a huge soccer fan. He has said he will be glued to his television once the tournament starts next month, in between trying to help the Lakers claim a second straight NBA championship. He will witness a USA side that heads to South Africa with high hopes of improving upon its miserable showing in 2006.

While Altidore's verbal sparring with Beckham was in jest, it was underpinned by a genuine belief that this USA squad is capable of matching up against the world's best.

"When you look at American sports like basketball and football the one thing you notice is the confidence," Altidore said. "Guys like Kobe have that total belief in themselves that they are going to make the shot, win the game, get the job done, no questions asked.

"That is the kind of mentality that we want to have. It is not arrogance; it is about trusting yourself and your abilities."

Last summer's Confederations Cup, also in South Africa, was a breakthrough for coach Bob Bradley's Americans. Victory over European champion Spain in the semifinal and a narrow defeat to Brazil in the final proved that, on its day, the United States can perform at world-class level.

Altidore and his teammates do not have the same high profile as many of their World Cup opponents, especially the star-studded England team. The 20-year-old left the New York Red Bulls in 2008 and spent last season playing with Hull City, which was relegated from the English Premier League.

Landon Donovan had a successful spell on loan with EPL club Everton, while Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey also have established themselves in England. However, none of the USA players have the celebrity status of England stars Beckham, Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard.

Altidore has improved since he moved to Europe, adding power, speed and game intelligence to his repertoire.

"We don't worry too much about names," Altidore said. "What has happened in the past year has shown us that we don't need to be afraid of any team, no matter how good they are or what their reputation is.

"That is a big step. To beat these teams you have to believe you can, and to believe you can play at that level too. If you don't do that when you go out on the field, you will find yourself playing their game, and you have no chance."