Overview: This group ended on a knife’s edge, with American veteran Landon Donovan’s strike in the 91st minute toppling the table and sending the Americans to the top of the Group in dramatic fashion,.
The US ousted the hard working Slovenians and forced England into a thrilling confrontation with Germany.
GOAL DIFFERENCE (FOR, AGAINST)
Yank Determination Prevails At the Final Breath
I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy
A Yankee Doodle, do or die
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam's
Born on the Fourth of July
I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart
She's my Yankee Doodle Algeria
Yankee Doodle came to London
Just to ride the Slovenian ponies,
Stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it Wayne Rooney
The US team has long wielded the win-at-all-cost grit and determination that makes them stand out from so many other teams.
From the draw against England, to the 2-2 equalizer against Slovenia, to the 1-0 victory against Algeria, this was a very hard fought group topping. But for many of the US players, tenacity is their main attribute.
This is very much a score-one-more than your opponent team, as leaky at the back as so many other US teams in the past. But they possess a very complementary group of players that never settles on anything but victory.
Landon Donovan is an exceptional, world class, attacking midfielder. And Tim Howard is a world class goalkeeper, while Clint Dempsey is a world class goal poacher.
The world class ranking stops there and drops off sharply, with Bocanegra, Bradley, backup keeper Hahnemann, defender Onyewu, reserve winger Beasley and powerful forward Altidore placed somewhere in between.
A few more names can figure in there. But compared even to Slovenia, they don’t present anything exceptional on an individual basis.
The rest of the team is often a bit out of their league, not in fitness and determination, but in their understanding of the game.
They often make critical mistakes, and recover by their fast pace, sharp reflexes and masterful concentration.
The remaining players all bring something, but also lack important traits.
The strength of the US team really hinges on:
1) Psychology: a Darwinistic drive to succeed, and mark the US in a sport which still gets less attention than other US athletic endeavours.
2) Fitness: strength and the ability to run opponents into the ground somewhere within the 90 minutes and...
3) The Collective: the ability to work so well as a team, making up for each other’s shortcomings with complementary traits and...
4) Desire: the will to mark themselves for their quite impressive successes in front of an apathetic US public.
5) Unbendable American Yankee Doodle confidence and attitude: Being the best is all that matters.
Finally, after so many years, it needs to be said. A threat to any opposition, I fear for more talented Ghana, the last African team in the tournament, with their inability to convert countless chances into goals.
The US can keep advancing, but can also lose significantly to a top team in good form.
If anyone as much as slips up, the US is ready to punish them.
Sluggish England Slither Into Second
Sunday morning I’m waking up, can’t even focus on a coffee cup, don’t even know who’s bed I’m in, where do I stop where do I begin? – Lyrics by English DJ’s the Chemical Brothers.
Dazed and Confused by Led Zepellin could also describe it, but I didn’t want to be accused of being grandfatherly.
England are in shambles compared to what they should be offensively, although the defence has been solid enough.
It seems that Italian manager Capello has finally imposed the famous Italian Catenaccio style of play on the English team. The suffering will continue until a penalty defeat at some upcoming stage of the playoff phase.
The fact remains that England’s millionaires are not performing up front, and there is still no excuse for the lack of pace, tempo and creativity from players that run like the wind at the sound of a flapping paycheck for their clubs.
The quality is somewhere in there, as literally 160 seconds of work out of 270 minutes of play were enough to get England through this group.
I dare say individual quality, although few have shown it. England are aligned defensively and have good tacklers and players with exceptional tactical discipline.
England can score with individual efforts, although few such efforts have materialized so far in three games.
Otherwise, the offensive machine is really not functioning; the main competition and energy of the players seems to have gone showboating at press conferences, making dramatic statements of intent with no intention of delivery to gathered journalists.
England could have just as easily been knocked out by a Slovenian goal in the second half.
Germany versus England makes the juices of anticipation flow. But this much could prove little else than a 0-0 penalty-settled amateur mud-wrestling competition.
Based on performance, Germany should win. But based on experience, England tips the balance.
Not much good all that experience has done them so far.
Stalwart Slovenia 30 Seconds From Sensation
Teamwork and work ethic. How far it can go even with obvious shortcomings in squad quality.
Buy your Slovenian friend a drink. He/she deserves it.
A very integrated unit that eliminated Russia and the Czech Republic from the World Cup, came within 30 seconds of qualifying for the next phase today, and managed to match England in overall performance.
Steven Gerrard alone makes more money than the whole Slovenian team.
Slovenia can serve as a shining example to the importance of a positive atmosphere, a coach that knows his players strengths and weaknesses perfectly, a good goalkeeper and a positive attitude.
Even though the team were eliminated by the US goal after the final whistle, Slovenia can count their South African outing as a great success, and an exhibition of what can be achieved through a positive “can-do” mentality.
Ironically, they were knocked out by a “do-or-die” US.
Algerian Rocklike Defence Fails to Help Reckless Attack
A superb defence and a misfiring attack. Karma finally caught up with controversial Algeria.
The football world is changing again.
During the past 20 years, it was highly unlikely that a North African team would advance to the World Cup Finals by defending alone.
Generally, the attacking football of African teams is giving way to disciplined, skillful defences. And Algeria are one very good example.
The back half of the Algerian team was exceptional in South Africa. The forward line, just as in the past two years, was nervous, wasteful and simply unable to get the ball in the opponent’s goal.
On a side note, it's important to remember how much referee-playing and theatrics qualified Algeria for this World Cup, at the expense of consecutive African champions Egypt, and to note that the refereeing standards during this tournament successfully prevented the diving, feigned injuries and referee-chatting exhibitions that won key points for the Algerians in the past.
They deserve congratulations for improving in the honesty department, even though in the final seconds of their World Cup, Anther Yahia managed a red card for dissent.
11 Performances to Remember
Tim Howard : His numerous saves erased his teammates' numerous mistakes on at least 10 occasions in three games. Howard is in great form, and was without a doubt the group’s best goalkeeper, even playing through pain for part of the stage.
Honourable Mentions Samir Handanovic and Rais M Bolhi: Two more goalkeepers outshone the others in this tournament. Slovenia’s first goalkeeper Handanovic is a talent, although he failed to be heroic against Jermaine Defoe’s England goal, which went through his hands form point blank range.
Rais M Bolhi was Algeria’s third choice goalkeeper before this tournament, but his solid, concentrated and disciplined performances should earn him a permanent slot as his team’s No. 1.
Both goalkeepers performed exceptionally, even relative to other groups in the tournament.
Glen Johnson: The best England player in all three games, Johnson’s defence of the goal line against Slovenia will be overlooked as English commentators compile their match summaries.
But it was one of his many contributions that kept England in the tournament. His addition of tempo to attack, and dangerous crosses into the box, were just about the best element of England’s weak attack, which is not saying much.
He was one of Liverpool’s best players this season, and constituted one of the few positives in the England squad so far.
John Terry: Mostly included for his apology after trying to start a mutiny against Fabio Capello following England’s draw with Algeria in the second group game.
His defending, including an important tackle in the second half of Slovenian onslaught, combined with the apology, actually suggest that one of England’s superstars might have done just barely enough this tournament.
Despite off-the-pitch antics, Terry has been excellent in defence.
Majid Bougherra: Sublime in defence (as important for Algeria as for Glasgow Rangers), a complete defender, who manages together with Yahia to defend, and caused the rare goals that Algeria actually scored.
Not in this tournament of course, although England’s spirit was shattered by his great defensive performance.
Antar Yahia: Scored the thundering shot against Egypt that brought Algeria to the World Cup, and formed the highly impressive defensive partnership with Bougherra that seems capable of frustrating any team.
Managed to get himself sent off in the dying seconds of the group, probably for telling off the Belgian referee in accordance with Algerian ritual.
Honourable Mention Nadir Belhaj: His dynamic, powerful runs down Algeria’s left wing from defence always look dangerous, but his lack of delivery means that its often all for show. At his best, he looks like a galloping horse. At his worst, like a stampeding mule.
Michael Bradley: The coach's son really organizes the US midfield, as he does with German club Moenchengladbach.
His goal against Slovenia was superb, and he makes up for the US midfield’s shortcomings with his commanding presence.
His decision to shave his head to match his dad’s barren top can be forgiven with his gradually improving performances. His weakness is that he can faze out of games and suffer from lapses of concentration.
Hassan Yebda: The Portsmouth defensive midfielder was the best Algerian player this tournament, the only link between defence and attack that functioned for the North Africans.
His defensive work was exemplary and he spared no energy in launching Algerian attacks that would have been much more successful if the Algerian forward line didn’t squander all of them. A candidate for best, but for his team’s ultimate failure, and for his constant aggressive debates with referees.
His blond hair colour is fake in case you were wondering.
Alexandar Radosaviljevic: Hard working defensive midfielder that played three good games. He did the crucial, yet hard-to-spot work that made Slovenia so difficult to attack, and so ready to counterattack. Modest Greek outfit Larissa could be set to lose his services for a bigger stage.
Valter Birsa: His goal against England was excellent, and many of the crosses he produced were the fuel of Slovenia’s qualification and group successes. Here is a player that plays well for both club and country, and is still constantly improving.
He was a major reason for Auxerre’s successful season and should be jumping to a bigger club soon.
Best of the Group, Landon Donovan: Three spectacular games from the American Ace. Here is the US player that has reached all of his World Class potential, and managed to deliver it at the World Stage once again. A vastly underrated player, his 91st minute US-saving goal against Algeria is one for the history books. Superb in play-making, and also capable of taking matters into his own hands.
Clint Dempsey: Brilliant at running in and scoring, although he had two goals disallowed for very marginal offside calls. He gives everything every game, it's no wonder that Dempsey was one of the best performing players in the English premiership this season—the American can teach the Lampards and Rooneys a thing or two about determination.
I wish he would play a little less dirty though, as his fouls can be borderline red cards... and he does sometimes assume the falling-leaf position in the opponent’s penalty area.
11 Flops to Forget
Faouzi Chaouchi and Robert Green: Two flappy goalkeepers. Green had only one game to swat haplessly at the ball, while Chaouchi ends a long run of up and down swattyness which saw him feigning a concussion during the African Nations Cup, collecting two red cards and having one heroic game which eliminated African Champions Egypt from the tournament. Each lad had a miss that will make the funny music video features at the end of the World Cup.
Jamie Caragher: Not that he played badly, but that he had the audacity to tell the English press that “the Champions League is harder than the World Cup.” If that were the case Jamie why did you manage to get yourself suspended after one game, and why did your illustrious colleague only produce two goals in three games?
Jay DeMerit: Worked hard, but made constant defensive mistakes that were amazingly not eaten up by the opposition. Nearly cost the US the final game against Algeria with a bad defensive touch.
Steve Cherundulo: Worked hard, but left kilometres of open space in defence when going forward, which most of the US’s opponents were quick to exploit. He does the same trick at Hannover, and they enjoyed relegation this season, which means he has his colleagues to thank for good cover.
Medhi Lacen: Has played well recently, but didn’t do much except get in the way of the opposition. The plastic reserve bench would have done the job even better.
Karim Ziani: Ran and dribbled as always. Shot balls into other stadium constantly as always. Never passed when it was the better decision and that is why he is among the flops. England could have used his energy though.
Frank Lampard: Nothing comparing to his Chelsea form. He could have spent more effective time with public relations entertaining frustrated fans in the stands. His reason for being on the England squad is obvious.
To comment about how “now we realize that we have to pick up the pace and give it our all because we are not playing like we do in the Premiership.”
Well played Frank. Give us another.
Aaron Lennon: A player on the rise, but not the last three games. He failed to produce anything that resembled his Tottenham form, and never managed to show off his running speed. Well, his walking around the pitch wasn’t that fast either.
Emile Heskey: When striking the Jambulani ball the aging also-ran looked like an elephant trying to cross a tight-rope. What Italian manager Fabio Capello saw in him to give him three more games to finally hit the ball correctly after 32 years is for the astrologists to decipher.
Sorry Emile, you might be a nice guy, but where is the logic? Why was he picked over Aston Villa colleagues Gabi Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, and why did he start ahead of Defoe, Peter Crouch or Joe Cole? His work and runs off the ball were only positives.
Wayne Rooney: So many expectations, so many commercials, so many covers of video games and tabloid magazines. Ahhhh.
The only thing Wayne managed to produce is a smug remark that the England fans who travelled thousands of kilometres to South Africa to watch him pick his big nose “are not supporting him enough.” Perhaps he will take Alex Ferguson’s advice and retire due to lack of interest in anything that doesn’t earn him loads of money?
Worst of the Group, Rafik Djebbour and Abdelkader Ghezzal: Take either one of them it doesn’t matter. Rafik’s monumental miss against the US in the opening minutes of the final game, where alone with the goalkeeper he tries the hardest trick in the book and volleys the ball onto the crossbar. Ghezzal’s red card in the opening match against Slovenia summarize the performance of Algeria’s misfiring misfit offensive line.
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