Group C Preview: US Will Advance


Kyle McCarthy is the football correspondent of the Boston Herald, and he is one of the most respected columnists in the USA.

When we were looking for someone to preview this massive group, where better to go than the Boston and the top writer in the country.

Radio Sounders Previews USA v England

By Kyle McCarthy

1. England

Key Man: Wayne Rooney

Big Question: How will the injuries to Gareth Barry and Rio Ferdinand impact their dreams?

Outlook: This group presents a rather straightforward prelude to the knockout stages for the Three Lions. The breadth and depth of the options in the attacking third should overwhelm the Algerians and the Slovenians and lead to a rather straightforward six points. The turning point for the knockout round rests with the opening match against the Americans. Three points against the Americans should secure a second-round date with the Group D runner-up, a boon considering the strength of what many pundits believe is the so-called group of death.

With progression to the knockout stages all but assured, the focus should turn to whether England boasts the requisite pieces to make a deep run into the tournament. Barry’s return from an ankle injury will prove crucial to those hopes. His ability to disrupt play in front of a back four riddled by indifferent club form and permit newly-anointed captain Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) and Frank Lampard (Chelsea) the license to push forward to support Wayne Rooney makes England dangerous to even the best teams in the world.

Ferdinand’s knee injury may rob Fabio Capello of his captain, but his absence should only pose a problem to the side if either John Terry (Chelsea) or, as far more likely, Ledley King (Tottenham Hotspur) picks up a knock and forces Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Michael Dawson (Tottenham Hotspur) or Matthew Upson (West Ham United) to slot into central defense. Then again, it’s all window dressing if England doesn’t receive a healthy supply of goals from the talismanic Rooney. Without the Manchester United star in fine form, England will falter.

Final verdict: England should have enough to reach the quarterfinals, but further advancement will require a bit of luck and, perhaps, a steelier approach on the penalty spot.

2. United States

Key Man: Landon Donovan

Big Question: Can the injury-threatened back four provide the required stability?

Outlook: While most in the United States believe the Americans should progress relatively easily, the fixture list makes Bob Bradley’s test considerably harder. The most difficult match – a date with England – arrives first and will likely plunge the U.S. into a hole heading into its second game with Slovenia.

If the Slovenians collect all three points against the Algerians in their opener, they will almost certainly play for a draw. One point in the second match would force the United States to enter the final match with Algeria needing a victory and some help to advance. Needless to say, the foregoing approach isn’t the ideal scenario.

With all of the skepticism now out of the way, the U.S. should manage to navigate its way through the group if its defensive core can return to form. Oguchi Onyewu’s (AC Milan) return to fitness and form will prove particularly important with depth a considerable issue on the back line. If the U.S. can rely on its back four to keep things tight at the back, it can suitably rely on its counterattacking approach with Donovan the trigger man on the left wing. Questions also loom at forward – Jozy Altidore (Villarreal) and Clint Dempsey (Fulham) up top? – and at fullback – Steve Cherundolo (Hannover) or Jonathan Spector at right back? – as the tournament approaches, but the U.S. will sort out those issues and send out a well-drilled side with a tailored game plan for each of the three matches.

Final verdict: If the U.S. can recover from an opening match defeat to England, it should advance to the second round before bowing out.

3. Slovenia

Key Man: Milivoje Novakovic

Big Question: Will they score enough goals to give themselves a chance to advance?

Outlook: Slovenia’s most important match is its first one against Algeria. If the Slovenians can collect a victory, they will be pole position for second spot in the group and perhaps finally have the opportunity to erase the memory of the 2002 disaster caused by Zlatko Zahovic’s churlishness.

The schedule in some ways reflects the Slovenians’ primary strength: playing from in front. The Slovenians boast no individuals in Zahovic’s class, but they make up for a lack of top-end quality with a healthy dose of combativeness and organization in front of their excellent goalkeeper, Samir Handanovic (Udinese). As the Russians can attest, the Slovenians aren’t easy to break down from the run of play with their preference to defend in numbers and invite other teams to leave gaps to exploit on the counterattack. Slovenia’s approach, in some respects, mirrors the United States’ deportment, though the Slovenian flavor is generally far more conservative and somewhat less potent than the American execution.

In order to upset the accepted notion that England and the United States will progress, Slovenia must find a way to generate and convert the few chances it does create. There is no room for profligacy and wastefulness in front of goal, so the onus falls on the lumbering Novakovic (Cologne) to finish clinically when Valter Birsa (Auxerre), Zlatko Dedic (Bochum) and Robert Koren (unattached) break forward and provide him with opportunities from the run of play or on set pieces.

Final verdict: Slovenia will improve on its 2002 showing, but fall just short of a spot in the second round.

4. Algeria

Key Man: Nadir Belhadj

Big Question: Do the Desert Foxes possess the necessary temperament to cope with three physical sides?

Outlook: Algeria enters Group C play as the rank outsiders despite dispatching Egypt in a playoff to reach this stage of the competition. They have assembled a fairly new squad heavy on French-reared imports and have dropped regular contributors such as Hameur Bouazza (Blackpool) in order to accommodate the new recruits. The nascent nature of the squad and the tendency to lash out during times of stress and adversity offer two warning signs for the Algerians’ efforts if the first match against Slovenia fails to yield the required result.

Unlike Slovenia and the United States, the Algerians are more than willing to commit numbers forward with some regularity. The majority of the danger comes down the left flank with Portsmouth left back Belhadj – once he returns from suspension – supplying a rampaging option in the wide areas. Despite this apparent commitment to flooding numbers forward at times, the Algerians usually isolate Abdelkader Ghezzal (Siena) up top and ask him to provide much of the cutting thrust on his own. Support from midfield schemer Karim Ziani (Wolfsburg) will be essential to those attacking efforts, particularly with Mourad Meghni (Lazio) omitted due to injury.

The Algerians’ tendency to push numbers forward places significant pressure on the back four to remain resolute. Madjid Bougherra (Rangers) and Antar Yahia (Bochum) offer a pair of seasoned options in central defense, though Bougherra battled a series of injuries during the latter half of the Scottish season. With starting goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi (ES Setif) suspended for the first two matches, the Desert Foxes will need to protect Lounes Gaouaoui (Chlef) defensively in order to advance.

Final verdict. Algeria overcame the odds to reach this World Cup, but their stay should end after the group stage.


1. England

2. USA

3. Slovenie

4. Algeria

Radio Sounders Previews USA v England

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