2010 FIFA World Cup Group C Preview: Will USA Make the Round of 16?
USA will enter World Cup 2010 with high hopes. They have one of the strongest teams maybe ever, a coach who has proved a revelation, and a bona fide soccer star in captain Landon Donovan.
They’ll also be on happily familiar turf: South Africa was the scene last year of one of the country’s most famous triumphs, when USA beat European champions Spain to set up a Confederations Cup final meeting with Brazil.
World Cup, of course, is a slightly different proposition, and there are myriad obstacles standing before any wild daydreams about another final appearance. First and foremost: will USA even make it out of their group?
First up: England
USA was drawn as the second seed in Group C with England, Algeria, and Slovenia. Their first match of the 2010 World Cup, on June 12 in Rustenburg, is against England—the top-seeded team in the group, and favorites to advance to the later stages.
The game of their lives
USA have a storied history against England; unfortunately, their most legendary result against them was back in World Cup 1950. Immortalized in the movie “The Game of their Lives,” the 1950 US team shocked the world by upsetting then-mighty England 1-0.
Sadly, as good as that victory may have felt, it was not enough to send them through to the next round, after defeats to Spain and Chile.
England v USA: is a draw good enough?
60 years later, the good news is, a win over England in this World Cup probably would seal USA’s chances to make the round of 16. The bad news is, they’ll have to produce possibly an even bigger game of their lives.
Realistically, a draw here would be a great result, that one point potentially decisive in the group; but Coach Bob Bradley would be well advised to resist the temptation of going out to settle for a draw.
England stars intimidation factor
While USA’s less experienced players could feel the intimidation factor of facing England stars like John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, it will be vital to start their World Cup campaign going full-throttled for a win. England have a history of shaky starts in the tournament, and if the Americans can hold their nerve to take early advantage, the points could be theirs for the taking.
Slovenia: surprise qualifier
England are the only Group C opponents the US actually has a history with, so the next two matches will be fresh slates. The upside is, there won’t be the same intimidation factor—not only has the USA never played them, but Slovenia and Algeria are not exactly stocked with household names.
The downside is, of course, not knowing what to expect. But Bradley and his team should be able to provide the players with enough background to head into their June 18 match versus Slovenia prepared for anything.
The key to breaking down Slovenia
The European team pulled off a shock play-off victory over Russia to book their place in South Africa by the slimmest of margins, going through on away goals. Though they don’t have a great deal going forward, Slovenia can be hard to break down; which is where Donovan’s movement and scoring prowess will come in handy.
Key players: Slovenia
Slovenia captain Robert Koren is their most creative player. Koren is a midfielder for newly promoted West Brom, and has proved an excellent leader for his country.
Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic of Italian club Udinese pulled off some fantastic saves in qualifying, and is key to Slovenia's excellent defensive record.
Algeria: the Desert Foxes
Next up, USA faces Algeria in Pretoria on June 23. Algeria were also involved in a qualifying play-off upset, beating African champions Egypt in a hard-fought match. The 1-0 win sent Algeria through to the World Cup for the first time in 24 years, at the expense of their neighbors and bitterest of rivals, who were heavy favorites.
Fitness concern for Algeria's Madjid Bougherra
Algeria's Madjid Bougherra missed most of the season with Scottish champions Rangers through injury, but insists he will be fit for his country's campaign in South Africa. The staunch defender's presence will be a boost for the Foxes.
Key player: Algeria's Yazid Mansouri
Algeria captain Yazid Mansouri pulls the strings in midfield.
Group C in the balance
Group C has an interesting balance: at first glance, England and USA look fairly certain to bag first and second place respectively. But the unpredictability of Algeria and Slovenia, both teams who booked their places in South Africa by conjuring unexpectedly strong performances, means any of these teams can take points off any other on any given night.
Could Algeria's passionate supporters travel down the continent to give their team that extra advantage?
Eyes on the prize
...or will Team USA's presidential support give them the boost they need to make it to the knock-out rounds for the first time since 2002?
Where will USA pick up points?
So what will it take for USA to advance to the round of 16? It’s fair to say they will need one win and one draw at the very minimum to advance. Slovenia look likeliest to yield the win, and by the time of the final group match against Algeria, the Americans will know whether they’ll need a draw or a win there.
With the determination to ride on last year's Confederations Cup success, USA will be in prime position to do what it takes to reach the round of 16.