London, England (CNN) -- Four years ago, Tim Howard watched from the sidelines as the United States crashed out of the World Cup after failing to make it past the group stages in Germany, which was a blow to soccer's slow development in America.
This year, the 31-year-old will be the first-choice goalkeeper in a U.S. team tipped by many to spring surprises in the sport's showpiece tournament in South Africa.
Howard has won the confidence of national manager Bob Bradley after establishing himself as a regular with English Premier League club Everton following a spell at Manchester United, where he was a fringe figure.
The U.S. players kick off their Group C campaign against the star-studded England team in Rustenburg on June 12 boosted by last year's showing at the Confederations Cup in South Africa, where they bravely went down 3-2 in the final to superpowers Brazil after beating European champions Spain 2-0 in the semis.
Howard told CNN that the team, many of whom play outside of the States, now have the confidence to try to emulate the 2002 line-up, which reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual runners-up Germany.
"[The Confederations Cup] gave us confidence and belief that even though within that whole tournament there was a few games that didn't go well, there was a few games that went really well," he said.
"That gave us a confidence and belief that when things are down we can pick ourselves back up, and when things are going really well we're on our game. On the best days we can arguably compete against the best teams in the world.
"I'm hoping it shows that as a team we've matured, and we saw what it takes to play against Italy, against Brazil, against Spain at the highest level every single match.
"You'll never get a run harder than that, so it was something that we will take a lot of confidence from, and hopefully if we are mature enough we'll use those experiences in a positive way."
Can the United States stun England again?
The U.S. shocked the soccer world in 1950 by defeating England 1-0 in Uruguay, and Howard hopes that he can also get one over his adopted home nation.
"We are hoping so. I think the one thing that night against Spain taught us is that anything can happen, and I know that a lot of people say that but you still do have to go out and play the game, you have to go out and perform," he said.
"We almost did it against Brazil, and like I said, those experiences have given us a belief."
The rewards of trying hard
The U.S. are known for being a hard-working unit with few stars, despite having the likes of Howard and Fulham's Clint Dempsey playing in the high-profile English league, where international teammate Landon Donovan recently completed a successful loan spell with Everton.
"First and foremost, our foundation has to be that: running, jumping, being stronger than the opponent. If we don't have that then nothing else works," Howard said.
"I think we've started to grow as a country there, and technically and in terms of tactical awareness, and that helps by having players go abroad and play in Portugal, Germany, France, England to get a piece of different cultures, and then we come back together.
"Now we have guys who can possess the ball, who can pick out passes, beat a man, and again defensively be more tactically aware. But as I say, first and foremost we have to have the physical side of our game."
Faith in the face of adversity
Howard, a devout Christian, has had to overcome Tourette syndrome -- a neuropsychiatric disorder -- as he built a career which has now earned him almost 50 international caps and a contract with Everton for the next four years.
"It's something that I live with every day. For me now in my life, it's like breathing for me. If I woke up and didn't have Tourette syndrome, it would feel weird -- not better or worse, just different. So I'm very happy and comfortable with it," he said.
Howard said his faith helps him perform on the pitch.
"Off the field in preparation, I do rely on my faith knowing that I don't know the outcome of the game and I don't know exactly if I'm going to be awesome or if I'm going to be terrible," he said.
"You just kind of leave that in God's hands, and try my best to be calm and to be still and kind of let him have the reigns.
"My grandmother, she was a Christian. She tried to instill that in her family, or our family, and it's been a huge positive in my life, certainly since I was a young adult. It's always something that I've always felt very strongly towards and it was a void that was filled in my life when I accepted Jesus Christ."
A solid rock to depend on
Howard is now hoping to be his country's first-choice goalkeeper for many years to come, having been understudy to the likes of Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller before breaking through in 2007.
"I think it's something you dream about as a kid, it's something that for me I don't take for granted. It's so very important to me," he said.
"When I was coming up in my early twenties, you look at [Italy's Gianluigi] Buffon and [Spain's Iker] Casillas and [German legend] Oliver Kahn, you look at some of the greats, they held the number one shirt and they wouldn't let it go. They'd fight you tooth and nail for it, they were passionate about playing for their country and they played on a high level every year.
"You know, game in game out they were always there, rock-solid, and I know what I hope to be. I don't know if I'm there or if I'll get there, but I hope to be that -- a figure in within my national team that can be counted on every game."