Four years ago the United States was placed in the Group of Death at the World Cup, which included 2010 participants Italy and Ghana. Last summer, the U.S. was placed in an extremely difficult group at the Confederations Cup which included Brazil and Italy. On Friday, lady luck finally shined upon the stars and stripes as America was given a very fortuitous draw for the first ever World Cup held on the continent of Africa. Here’s a breakdown of the teams the U.S. will be playing and my early predictions on what will happen in June.
- Head Coach: Fabio Capello
- How They Qualified: UEFA with 9-0-1 record
- Players to Watch: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) – striker, Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) – Midfielder, John Terry (Chelsea) – defender
- Breakdown: This will be some spectacle when the Americans and English face off on June 12, the second day of the tournament. Yes, we all know we whooped the red coats back in the 1770s and again in the 1810s, but these teams do have some significant soccer history. Back in 1950 a then-unheralded U.S. team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history by defeating England, 1-0, in the group stage. England had been 3-1 favorites to win the World Cup while the U.S. was listed at 500-1. The “Miracle on Grass” is still a sore spot for the English and they will be relishing a chance at revenge. More recently, England defeated America in a friendly at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 2008.
Looking forward to June, this represents a massive challenge for the U.S. to get a result against a strong – and now well-coached – team. England has class at nearly every position (except goalkeeper) and will present a tough challenge for the U.S. to attack with success. The presumed back four of Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole have size and speed which will be difficult to deal with, especially without Charlie Davies. At the back, the absence of Oguchi Onyewu could be huge when trying to deal with the likes of Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rooney and Terry on set pieces. Also don’t forget about David Beckham, who will probably come off the bench for the Three Lions.With the pretty easy group otherwise, I could see both teams pushing forward early on to try to grab a goal and a crucial early World Cup win. In the end, I think England’s class will shine through.
England 2, USA 1 - Eng: Rooney, Terry; USA: Donovan
- Head Coach: Rabah Saadane
- How They Qualified: Africa, by defeating Egypt in a playoff played in Sudan
- Players to Watch: Antar Yahia (VfL Bochem) – defender, Karim Ziani (VfL Wolfsburg) – midfield, Rafik Saifi (Al Khor, Qatar) – striker
- Breakdown: There is no doubt the Algerians deserve to be in the World Cup. After a tough qualifying campaign it came down to one match against hated rival Egypt played in neutral Sudan. Among outbreaks of violence between fans and an attack on their team bus, Algeria beat Egypt, 1-0, behind a goal from Yahia to qualify for the World Cup.The Algerians mix as a group of veterans and young players who are obviously battle tested. They are very strong in the back but struggle going forward. They rely on grinding out results and counter attacking. The United States will have to be careful and not allow fast breaks which could lead to crushing goals. I think the stage will be a little big for the Algerians and the quality of Donovan and Dempsey will be able to overcome a stout Algerian defense.
USA 3, Algeria 0 - USA: Dempsey, Altidore (2)
- Head Coach: Matjaz Kek
- How They Qualified: UEFA through playoff win over Russia
- Players to Watch: Milivoje Novakovic (Koln, Germany) – striker, Robert Koren (West Brom, England) – midfield, Samir Handanovic (Udinese, Italy) – goalie
- Breakdown: Slovenia is a team no one knows much about but their win over Russia in the UEFA playoffs should speak to their credentials. They are anchored by a great defense in Handanovic and Koren and have lots of players competing in top leagues. In 12 games of qualifying (including the playoffs), Slovenia only allowed six goals.Like Algeria, Slovenia has a veteran, battle tested team but doesn’t have the depth of some of the other teams in the draw. The U.S. will have to work hard to score on this tough defense, a defense which was able to stop Russian hitman Andrei Arshavin when it mattered most. Again, USA will have to be weary about the counter attack and could be exposed at the back. Set piece defense will also be crucial. However, in the end, the U.S. just has too much quality.
USA 2, Slovenia 1 USA: Bocanegra, Donovan; Slovenia: Novakovic
Other World Cup Thoughts
- The Group of Death certainly is Group G which includes Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Almost every one of those matches will be great to watch.
- As much fortune as the U.S. received, our neighbors to the south must have God on their side. Mexico was drawn in an easy group, which has South Africa at the top. The rest of the group includes Uruguay and France.
- Grant Wahl of CNNSI.com tweeted this first but it’s worth mentioning again: imagine if the NCAA basketball tournament selection Sunday had nearly an hour of pomp before getting to the draw?
- The ESPN promos for the World Cup featuring the traditional scenes/music of Africa are pretty sweet and will not get old over the next six months.
- Is it June 12 yet?