Group C: USA on track to qualify but will have to earn it

Green howler gifts US a goal but draw not undeserved result

It was looking as if the Algeria v Slovenia game was going exactly the way the US wanted, a lackluster goalless draw. But then the Algerian keeper did his best Robert Green impersonation and gave Slovenia an undeserved goal and the three points which went with it. Slovenia now tops the group and with the American’s next game against them it leaves much less margin for error. Both the Slovene and Algerian performance, however, reinforces the view that England and the United States are still the strongest teams in the group. The United States is still on course to qualify out of the group stage, but it will have to earn it.

Max’s solid analysis of the US – England game frees me up to focus on what we learned about the four teams after one game and how the rest of the group stage shapes up. The next games on are on Friday, with the US playing Slovenia at 10 am followed at 2:30 with England vs. Algeria. A draw in the Algeria – Slovenia game would have allowed a wobble against Slovenia, but now the Americans need a result with a win setting up the prospect of winning the group. England are in a similar position, needing a win against Algeria to avoid a testy final encounter against Slovenia.

The sequence of the games provides the US with an extra opportunity – beating Slovenia before England play would vault the US to the top of the group and increase the stakes ahead of England’s match with Algeria. A draw against Slovenia would mean that the US has to beat Algeria to go through, and even then it wouldn’t be assured. That’s certainly possible because based on what we saw on Sunday, the US team should not lose to Slovenia and should beat Algeria. But let’s aim higher. Germany destroyed Australia 4-0 in a scoreline that was merciful to the Socceroos. And the Germans likely await the runner up in our group, while it looks like Ghana have the poll position to take second and could face the winner.

USA: All around, the US performance against England was solid but unspectacular. Tim Howard was definitely the man of the match. His positioning was superb and he made a couple of key stops. But it wasn’t as if he stood on his head and single-handedly frustrated England, the back four played pretty darn well in front of him. There were moments of shakiness and they were exposed a few times – but let’s not forget they were up against some fantastic attacking players who should create a decent number of chances throughout a game. Hopefully, Howard’s rib injury is not too debilitating and he can start in what should be an unchanged back five.

The attacking players – Donovan, Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Robbie Findley – acquitted themselves well without being in top form. Donovan put in some very good crosses and looked dangerous when running with the ball. Dempsey was definitely up for this match on offense and defense. Altidore showed glimpses of why so many American fans think the 20-year-old could be a real global star. He tore apart Jamie Carragher on several occasions and created the best US chance of the game which forced Green to make a good save as he pushed the shot onto the bar. Findley had a couple of chances to showcase his speed and he made the England back line look uncomfortable without really doing much with the ball. He did ok, but I might look to bring on Herculez Gomez as he seems to score goals whenever he’s on these days. And we’ll need some goals.

The most disappointing performers were in the central midfield. Any duo would have their hands full with two skilled opponents like Gerrard and Lampard, but Michael Bradley and Clark really struggled to get a grip on the game. International matches are all about possession, and Bradley and Clark didn’t control the ball at all and had few ideas when they did have it. Clark did make a key defensive interception in the box late in the first half, but that was about the only meaningful contribution he had made up to that point. Slovenia did not show enough in attack to warrant two holding or defensive midfielders and I would like to see Jose Torres from the start on Friday. He could play the deep-lying quarterback roll to help the US team get on top of the Slovenes.

England: The English will have a lot of questions after this match. As has happened time and time again, Lampard and Gerrard did not play well together. Lampard did practically nothing throughout the game. Gerrard was lively early and obviously did well with the goal but didn’t have a particularly influential match, especially in the second half. Gareth Barry looks set to be fit for England’s second match so coach Fabio Capello won’t have to figure out how to make it work. But some questions will need to be asked about why it was even tried regardless of the fitness of Barry. Rooney, as has happened time and time again, kept drifting deeper and deeper to pick up the ball. This unbalances the set up and Rooney was hardly a factor in the entire game. Lennon made some good runs and looked pretty dangerous, but neither Milner or Wright-Philips impressed on the other side – maybe Joe Cole gets a start against Algeria. Ashley Cole was strong on defense but rarely ventured forward, a particular strength of his that perhaps owed to the strong play of Donovan and Dempsey when they were on the US right. Look for more runs from Cole to match his partner on the right Glen Johnson.

Obviously, the biggest issue will be who will start in goal. Robert Green. Interestingly, the Slovenia win means that Capello has less latitude and likely means the end of Green in goal. A weak goal for Algeria that means a draw or even worse a loss, would put England behind the eight ball in its last game against a Slovenia team that will feel it can go through regardless of how its game against the US goes. I expect to see David James on Friday.

Slovenia: While they did not show much in their 1-0 win over Algeria, the three points puts them in a decent position to make it out of the group. Neither the Americans nor English will be as easy on them as the Algerians (I hope at least), who simply allowed them to play without much pressure. And they will have to contend with attacks that are likely to create more chances too. One challenge for the Slovenes is that they didn’t have much pace or serious invention – I don’t recall a clear chance in the entire game. It certainly may be that they were cautious in their first group game, but since it was likely to be their easiest, that seems doubtful. They can’t be overlooked, as the Russians painfully discovered, and their win may free them up and allow them to go for it against the US to try and deliver a knock out blow and get into the second round. But on the basis of what we know about this team and the first game, this is a team both the United States and England should beat if playing their game.

Algeria: The Algerians never looked like scoring but also didn’t seem like conceding. Slovenia had more of the possession, but that was largely because the Algerians sat back and allowed them to pass the ball around without doing much. The shock game winner sets up a match against a team that also conceded through and dreadful goalkeeping error. But Algeria did not have anything like the attacking thrust of England. Its likely that England will beat Algeria, thus eliminating the chance they will qualify for the second round which could remove the pressure when they face the US in the last group game. It might bring them out of their shell, which could lead to more threats against the US defense but also more openings for the US attack. They do look like the weakest side in the group and again, the US and England should beat them and they might not have to play that well to do it.

The first games didn’t go all the US’s way, but we’ve played our toughest game and we still have qualification fully in our cotrol and within our grasp. Its unlikely we’ll be able to slip through into the second round, but we’re going to have to play well and win games if we’re going to anything in this tournament anyway – so we might as start on Friday.

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2 Responses

  1. While the 0-0 draw would have been the ideal result this is not bad either. Let’s assume that the US and England each win their next games as expected. That leaves the US and England atop the group (1st place decided by goal differential or goals scored) with 4 points, Slovenia with 3 and Algeria with 0.

    England now has to play Slovenia who are actually playing for something while the US plays an already eliminated Algerian side. While playing a team with nothing to lose can be tough, I expect the US to handle it as the Algerians won’t be as likely to try to bunker in and steal a result.

    While watching the Slovenia-Algeria match I couldn’t help but notice the only shots game out of desperation in midfield. Very little creativity and only a couple of decent chances came from through balls or dangerous crosses.

    Slovenia knows it has to get a win against the US as it can’t like its chances against England. This presents a problem, however, as they are known to like to play solid defense and counter. I expect that they will have to try to open their game up a bit and this is where they US will expose them. I’m actually looking for the US to get a fairly decent win here 2-0 or 3-1.

  2. All the World Cup 2010 Games in South Africa will be streamed live at http://www.WorldCupTV.org 18:42

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