The picture is that of The Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg, South Africa, the site of the match on Saturday between England and the United States. After months of debate and opinion and speculation, the game is finally upon us.
England goes into the game a favorite to beat the Americans. They are a much older and more experienced club. They have also found a leader in Fabio Capello, something they have lacked in recent European and world tournaments.
The U.S. squad is younger and unproven, though they too have found a coach in Bob Bradley in whom they can rally around.
Bradley does not have Capello's résumé, but he does have the respect and trust of his team, and they have played well for him the last four years.
Here is a quick breakdown of the two teams and who I feel as the advantage in each area.
The U.S. keeper is Tim Howard, who plays his ball for Everon FC in the Premier League. Howard is solid, and after a slow start with Everton last year, finished the season strong.
England has three capable keepers and Capello has been careful not to pick one yet. In fact, some believe he might go right up to game time before telling which of three gets the call. David James does not figure to be the one. Robert Green has been the frontrunner, although some whisperings of late have Capello calling on Manchester City keeper Joe Hart.
Whoever Capello goes with, advantage Tim Howard and the Americans.
England will be missing a key man in Rio Ferdinand, who will miss the tournament with an injury. They are anchored by John Terry, with his Chelsea teammate Ashley Cole in the back with him. Glen Johnson is a safe bet as well. He is a good defender who likes to come forward, like Ashley Cole. The fourth defender is still up in the air, but I'll go with Ledley King, a truly great defender when he is healthy, which he is.
U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra anchors the U.S. back, but he is coming off injury and not 100%. It is questionable if he can go 90. Jay DeMerit figures to start, alongside Oguchi Onyewu, who has been declared fit, as of Wednesday. The fourth is up in the air, but I'll give it to Steve Cherundolo.
Strong advantage for England.
Both teams have quality players in the midfield, but also lack depth.
The U.S. is led by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Both players are versatile and comfortable moving up to forward if need be, Dempsey more likely than Landon. Michael Bradley compliments them well. Stuart Holden is your fourth starter.
England is led by veterans Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Though they've never played great together, they have one more shot at it. Explosive Aaron Lennon figures to start with the two old-timers. Joe Cole could be the fourth, at least to start the game. Cole is often removed around the 60th minute.
Even with Donovan and Dempsey, advantage England.
Jozy Altidore has been declared fit for the game and figures to start for the US. I have this feeling Bradley is going to go with Edson Buddle up front with him. Buddle's two goals in the game against Australia last weekend may make it difficult for Bradley to leave him on the bench.
England has world-class forward Wayne Rooney. His partner up front will either be Peter Crouch or Jermaine Defoe. I'll go with Defoe.
Bob Bradley will not be comfortable going to a midfielder off the bench. He does have a good scoring threat in Robbie Findley up front. The defense is already thin, but because of Bocanegra's health, Bradley will have to dip in at least once, and it would more than likely be Clarence Goodson.
England will have a deeper bench. Crouch or Defoe, whichever one doesn't start, would be the first attacking option. Some good defenders will be on the bench, including Matthew Upson and Jamie Carragher. With Gareth Barry out for the first game, the depth at midfield is suspect.
If you're scoring at home, that's 4-1 England. That would be assuming all categories are as important as the others. I don't think they are. The sub category is not as important as the others. The defensive category may be the most important, as well as goal keeping.
If Tim Howard can have an "A" game, I think the U.S. has a chance.
Final score: As much as this pains me, England 3-2.
But I've been wrong before.
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