1. South Africa
3. South Korea
3. New Zealand
2. North Korea
3. Ivory Coast
Here’s a very early look at what I think will play out:
England 2, USA 2
Algeria 0, Slovenia 1
Slovenia, 0, USA 0
England 3, Algeria 1
Slovenia 1, England 1
USA 2, Algeria 1
What would that do for the final Group C standings?
1. England 1-0-2, 5 pts 6 GF, 4 GA +2
2. USA 1-0-2, 5 pts 4 GF, 3 GA +1
3. Slovenia 1-0-2, 5 pts 2 GF, 1 GA +1
4. Algeria 0-3-0, 0 pts. 2 GF, 6 GF -4
It’s as good as the US men’s national team could have expected for the World Cup draw, and no doubt, USA fans will trot out the “1950” chant, recalling the massive upset by the USA against England in that year.
But even though everyone is excited about that first match, USA fans should not overlook the other two teams in Group C as lightweights.
Slovenia, though the smallest country to have qualified for the World Cup, knocked out Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia – drawing 2-2 against Guus Hiddink’s side but winning a berth on away-goals. Overall, Slovenia gave up just four goals in 10 qualifying matches against some very good teams.
Slovenia player background: Just briefly, Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic scored five times in qualifying, while goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and captain Robert Koren, an attacking midfielder, are two more key players for Slovenia, which has qualified for its second World Cup in just 18 years of existence as an independent country.
As for Algeria, tensions rose following its playoff win over Egypt to qualify for the World Cup. In qualifying, Algeria did well at home and struggled on the road. Known as the Desert Foxes, Algeria is led in the back by defenders Antar Yahia, Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj, as well as goalkeeper Lounes Gaouaoui, but the Desert Foxes are said to be stronger in the midfield.
Getting back to what will be a much-hyped USA/England matchup, it’s a team USA fans are most familiar with having watched many of their players in matches for their club teams, and no doubt whether David Beckham makes the final England team will be hyped up endlessly. But England has many threats: Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard among them.
Briefly with the USA, it did well in the Confederations Cup, but fans in the lead-up to the World Cup draw were openly wishing to play in a soft group. Why? It’s a lack of confidence in the USA’s abilities, and while I wouldn’t suggest USA fans get cocky over its Group C opponents, or against anyone, there’s no reason not to be confident. I think the USA has players that are much more seasoned than four years ago, and has the potential to do well against top teams. And remember, the USA has, unlike most of the teams heading to South Africa, will be well-prepared to play there, having had some success in the Confederations Cup, defeating Spain and holding its own against Brazil for a half before falling 3-2.
USA coach Bob Bradley, too, has already talked about how much of an advantage it has having scouted out locations to set up camp. He said he is pleased that the draw allows them to be within driving distance of the locations for the Group C matches.
No doubt there will be much more analysis here and elsewhere about the USA’s chances, who Bradley should select for his final roster, and the players’ respective strengths and weaknesses; I’ll leave that for those who are better experts than myself. I only wish Charlie Davies were healthy, but I look for Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey to be breakout players for the USA in this cup, and if they can keep themselves steady, not draw silly fouls and not make silly mistakes, it will give itself a good chance to advance.
Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Oguchi Onyewu need to be leaders, and the USA will need a steady influence in midfield. Howard will hold his own, but it will need a strong defensive effort. As I look beyond today and the draw a little more, I’ll do my own, deeper analysis of the USA’s players that could potentially be selected.
So, in short, and in a very preliminary look, can the USA move out of the group? Yes. Will it? I’ll go out on a limb and say yes, but it won’t be easy.
I see a muddled top three, with it coming down to tiebreakers to determine who advances. England would go through on top based on greater goal differential, while the USA would advance by virtue of more goals scored, if it plays out anywhere near the way I have it, though I just heard John Harkes say it would come down to goal differential in the group, with the same top two I have.
With all this said, this is a very early look, and I’ll reevaluate my thoughts closer to World Cup time. I think the USA has winnable games in all three group-stage matches, but England will think it has such games too. And Slovenia, I don’t think, can be lightly regarded, based on their defensive prowess in qualifying. I’ll venture into thoughts on the other groups later.
So for now, let the hype continue for the next six-plus months until June 12 in Rustenberg.
Can anyone say “1950?”