England vs. USA World Cup 2010: U.S. Bench Could Decide Outcome of Opening Game
For those watching the South Africa-Mexico game to start the 2010 World Cup, there was a moment, halftime actually, where the game was in the hands of the coach.
0-0, Mexico with the bulk of the play, many believing that South Africa was barely hanging on. However, there was a five to ten minute span close to half where the host nation had controlled the play, especially on the wing.
There was hope. There was a chance. The much more heavily favored Mexicans appeared to be susceptible in the back.
And what could "el tri" do to score? How could they finally capitalize on all their possession?
Whatever team made the right adjustments could break the game wide open...
Many already know the story. in the 55th minute, Siphiwe Tshbalala opened the scoring with what will most likely be one of the best goals of the tournament by finishing off a perfect through ball on a South African counter.
It all hapened as the Bafana Bafana calmed down. They covered their flanks (where Mexico started most of their attacks), and played with two defensive midfielders and an attacking midfielder/target player, to start the counter.
All of these were adjustments made at halftime.
Of course, Mexico made late-game changes to scrounge up a point. They brought on Andres Guardado in a deep holding and distributing role, and he eventually assisted on the goal with a long cross to Rafael Marquez.
The choice to give Cuauthemoc Blanco playing time also made an impact.
This gave Mexico an option on just about any play, and it relieved pressure on the younger players as Blanco always wanted the ball (not that he always did something with it).
Finally, the goal came by capitalizing on South Africa's inability to mark-up properly; an issue seen throughout the game and more than likely stressed during the halftime speech.
The tournament's first game is a portent and lesson the United States can follow.
That is, of course, if the United States can make it to halftime tied (a big IF), but not completely out of the range of possibility as the U.S. team plays a defensive style and nerves during opening group games tend to produce play for the first 45 minutes.
Then it's up to Bob Bradley and company to make the proper adjustments.
While tactics will be an important part of any halftime adjustments, the players that employ the strategy will be essential.
Does the team need better service from the wings? Place Stuart Holden on the wing.
Is England allowing possession in the midfield (a possibility if Capello opts for both Lampard and Gerard)? Maybe it's time for Torres or Feilhaber.
Perhaps the game has become chippy and the United States is getting good looks from set pieces. Could Hercules Gomez find the net on the back post?
More than most teams, America's bench players will be integral in the team's success, not only against England, but probably for the whole tournament.
Bradley has created a formula, a set defensive style, and the subtlest of tweaks changes the entire approach. For England, if they don't score early, much like Mexico, the pressure will mount, they could get desperate, and at that point, if America takes advantage, it could change the entire feel of the game (and outcome).
A nil-nil halftime score is quite likely for the Slovenia game as well. The team is a defensive juggernaut, so the game could become a chess match with one or two late-game adjustments deciding the victor. Again, the bench becomes the focal point.
That's the advantage of Bradley's selection. Unlike other nations where the focus is on the best eleven countrymen, other than America's third string goalie, everyone has a role depending on the scenario.
Granted, there are players who must play well including Donovan, Dempsey, and Howard. But the deciding factor could come from an unexpected place.
Goals come from everyone (Sometimes to to the dismay of American fans), different players give the team's play a totally new feel, and a number of individuals have a different skill set.
Consequently, it was Bradley's inability to make halftime changes during the Confederations Cup final against Brazil that had an incredible impact on the outcome.
Much like Mexico's flank attack against South Africa, Brazil pushed up its wing-backs and looked to get the ball in from the edges of the box. At no point was this strategy countered, and by the final whistle, Brazil had worn down the U.S. defense. So there's no telling whether or not changes will be made...and the right ones at that.
But, if at halftime the English game is tied, look to the sideline.
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