"It's like the World Cup. We're here for a war. We're representing our country. We know they (soldiers), are watching us and counting on us," Johnson said.

"Whenever you put on your jersey and your anthem is on and you're going against another country, it's like a war. It's do or die. We're going to do whatever we can, whatever it takes, whatever we have to when the referee is not looking."

USA coach Bruce Arena played down the uproar over the 22 year old Kansas City Wizards player’s metaphor.

"We're very aware of the fact our soldiers are fighting a war," Arena said.

Bruce Arena and Claudio Reyna
put things into perspective

"It was a little bit twisted, the war analogy. I'm sure our player didn't mean to make the analogy that this is a war. This is a game," added Arena.

"We're not saying the game will be like a war. Using the word 'war' for a football match, that's a stupid use of the word."

The US squad arrived on Thursday night at Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern where players spent time with US soldiers who have been fighting in Iraq.

Ramstein is the largest US military base outside the USA with 50,000 troops.

"A lot of our guys put our game in perspective right away, that it's just a game we're playing, seeing some of the troops just back from the war," said US captain Claudio Reyna.

Johnson looked lively when he came on as a substitute in the USA’s 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic in their opening match, with another loss to Italy meaning a probable first round exit from the tournament for the Americans.

Italian players struggled to name more than a couple of US players, but Reyna played down the insult because so few Americans play in Serie A – the league that the entire Italian squad play in.

"Maybe they will know our names after the game," Reyna quipped.

The battle lines have been drawn.