Is there a storm brewing in Group C?
Do the continental underdogs, Algeria, have your attention after overcoming severe adversity to knock out Egypt?
Is Slovenia, a no-name squad that upended Russia, a defense too hard to break down?
Does anyone challenge England? Can anyone?
And, of course, there are these fellows who have a thing for fighting the English. But what else does the U.S. have in store for the World Cup?
When it comes time for the old and new worlds to collide again, what’s a little talk amongst friends, then? Knowing your stuff can make you look a little bit brighter amongst your peers and this handy-dandy list of people and information will make you the go-to guru of your local World Cup group.
Here’s some things you’ll need to know before June 11th.
Les Fennecs are by far the underdog of the group. Part of that is a lack of knowing exactly what it is that the continental side will offer the other three teams in the group. While bits and pieces of the squad are out and about throughout Europe, form of many of the players is a bit suspect, at best. Coupled with a slew of injuries, a desperate side will have to hold it together long enough to challenge three more solidified sides.
With defense and midfield pretty secure, finding goals will be the challenge for the Desert Foxes. Possibly willing to feature a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2, much of it will depend on whether or not a forward or two can make themselves effective on a consistent basis. The opening match will not be the easiest way to find out who can score, but should they show well against Slovenia, it could bode well for the squad.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Yazid Mansouri
The Lorient midfielder will reinforce the defensive half of the field for the Foxes and would be the cover man in either formation that Algeria opts to go with. Keeping the squad organized, upbeat and possibly most importantly, composed is going to be a tall order with half of the squad featuring next to no international experience. Leadership will have to be priority number one while keeping some of the more adventurous attacks in check.
The Man: Lounes Gaouaoui
Depending on what collection of bodies sit in front of the Chlef backstop, Gaouaoui will be looking to make up for lost time when appendicitis cost him the ability to be in net for the playoff with Egypt and all of the African Cup of Nations. Also expected to add veteran leadership to an inexperienced group, a commanding display will go a long way to reassuring everyone that the defense is secure.
Others to Watch: Karim Ziani, Adlene Guedioura, Rafik Djebbour/Abdelkader Ghezzal
Ziani is among the number of out of form players that have been included in the Algeria squad, but is one that can be highly effective if allowed to go on the offensive. In a more midfield oriented scheme, Ziani would likely be in a free role behind the lone forward and play off him, a la Steven Gerrard to Fernando Torres at Liverpool. Guedioura cannot be discounted as his displays with Wolves have shown. In the lackluster loss to Ireland, Guedioura certainly showed the willingness to get after the opposition, nailing the bar twice but being unable to add his first international tally to his rapidly improving resume. Djebbour and Ghezzal will be asked to infuse life into the forward spots. Djebbour is one of the few coming in to the World Cup in good form while Ghezzal was the second leading goalscorer during qualifying.
The “no-name defense” might be a fitting moniker to the smallest nation in the World Cup, a team that infuses Greek-esque defense with a palpable counter attack offense. Don’t be fooled: this team can score in bunches when it gets the opportunity to do so. They got two over two legs against Russia while also shutting down the Red Assault force in the second leg.
What makes Slovenia much like Algeria is that you have to look long and hard to find good information on the squad. While featuring players from all over Europe, much of the roster is still in the moderately experienced range, though continuity is certainly something that the side has going for it. Whether that unity can propel them past the big hitters is another matter all together.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Robert Koren
The former WBA midfielder pulls the strings for the Little Dragons. With the set up presented by Slovenia, Koren is the attack-minded half of the central midfield pairing and is the distribution center for the rest of the squad. For this outfit to be successful, Koren must get the team on the board early and set up the counter attack, as the defense is difficult to break down even when the Dragons don’t hold the lead.
The Man: Samir Handanovic
The young Udinese goalkeeper is attracting a lot of attention from bigger clubs throughout Europe and a fine showing will only increase his stock. After a quality season with the Italian unit should boost confidence, holding off cousin Jasmin Handanovic for the number one keeper spot should keep him focused on the task at hand. His work in the qualifiers was key as he managed six clean sheets in ten qualifying matches.
Others to Watch: Aleksander Radosavljevic, Milivoje Novakovic
Where Koren is allowed to move forward and create for Slovenia, Radosavljevic is his defensive midfield opposite. A hard working cover man, the Larissa midfielder will be a rugged part of the physical defense that has allowed Slovenia to succeed where many others would have faltered. Novakovic, the former 1. Koln skipper, has a vast physical presence that allows him to be competitive in the air both on the attack and on the defensive. His scoring will be key as the Dragons, when going down first, have a hard time pressing the action against opponents who are more adept at holding the ball and limiting counter attack opportunities.
The Three Lions are by far and a way the favorites to take the group and make a deep run into the competition. Known as much for a media whirlwind as their play, the squad is one built on holding the ball, exposing wing play, set pieces and being able to create chances through individual brilliance. Meshing has always been the biggest key for the side, one that coach Fabio Capello has been key in forming.
The bigger picture question, of course, is the weight of expectations. Expectations of sweeping the group. Expectations of making it to the finals. Expectations of ending 44 years of World Cup desperation. They certainly have the talent to make it, but do they have the nerve when the chips are down?
Players to Know
The Skipper: Steven Gerrard
This space was originally reserved for John Terry…then Rio Ferdinand…and now Stevie G, the Liverpool talisman. Oddly, this was probably one of the lesser seasons that Gerrard has had, considering the continual upheaval surrounding the Reds and the weight of carrying a massive club on his shoulders with little help in front of him. Now thrust into the role of England captain, Gerrard will be given the front of the midfield in Capello’s 4-4-2 diamond. Should it change to a 4-5-1, Gerrard will be at his advancing best in a free role behind Rooney, one that could pay massive dividends.
The Man: Gareth Barry
Alright, look, you’re probably looking at that name and saying to yourself, “What the hell is thinking? Not Rooney? Laughable!” But consider this, if you will….
While much has been made about the defense, who will be in goal and who will be partnering Rooney in the media, who has always been at the tip of the tongue of Capello? That’s right, the health of Barry. In Capello’s systems, defense is prominent and Barry is the only man that fits the back of the diamond in the holding midfield spot. His absence for any of the contests is something that must worry English fans as Michael Carrick has shown nothing to suggest that he is a good fit there and James Millner is not necessarily a defensive player any longer. Not taking Scott Parker and Ferdinand’s injury means that none of the defenders can effectively step to that spot, either. A healthy Barry might be the key to just how far England carry the banner through the tournament.
Others to Watch: Ledley King, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, whoever starts in goal
King’s fitness is always in doubt with those creaky knees. His end of season glut of contests with Tottenham alleviated many doubts about being able to play five days apart, but that doesn’t mean that he will be 100% (by his graduated standards) in those contests. Lampard comes in off the back of a 20 goal haul through the Premier League season and is the in-form midfielder. Finding common ground with Gerrard has always been an issue, but playing on the left of the diamond might allow for the two to try a different approach to the contest. Of course, Rooney needs little introduction, but his temper still needs to be kept in check from time to time. Scoring goals is his job, a job he does mighty well as most will know. David James has the number one jersey, which means absolutely nothing here. James, Robert Green and Joe Hart all could play in the tournament. That none of them have outright taking the job is still a concern, given the odd concentration lap known to befall English defenders before.
A note on the team as a whole, this is the only squad competing that has every single player plying their trade on their home soil, a distinction (technically) shared by Italy and Germany.
Of course, if there was one team that England would love to get their hands on (and vice versa) it’s the U.S., a side that sixty years ago scored maybe the greatest upset in World Cup history against an over-confident England side. Times have changed since then, namely the fact that the U.S. has a team in place that can actually challenge many of the big hitters in the world. The Confederations Cup run of last year proved that when Spain, who had just taken the world record for most consecutive matches unbeaten, was upended 2-0 by the Yanks, who nearly did the unthinkable by taking a 2-0 lead in the first half against Brazil in the final, only to fall short in the second half.
Make no mistake, this is a counter attacking team through and through. While the offense has taken a hit in not having Charlie Davies and his blistering pace up front, MLS forwards Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley, along with Puebla-cum-Pachuca forward Herculez Gomez, who has been on a scoring rampage of late, have shown promise in the latest friendlies. If the defense can hold up its end of the bargain, the U.S. could make a solid run into the tournament.
Players to Know (even if you should know them all)
The Skipper: Carlos Bocanegra
The Stade Rennes left back has been the U.S. captain since 2007. While normally playing in a central defensive capacity, the arrival of Jay DeMerit during his absence in the early portions of the Confederations Cup and his propensity at left back has allowed for Bocanegra to shore up a part of the defense that has, at times, been a weak point for the Yanks. Combined with Tim Howard in goal, it will be his job to make sure the defense holds up during the tournament.
The Man: Landon Donovan
Having proven his worth in a short stint with Everton, no one in England is underestimating the L.A. Galaxy captain. Flexible enough to move from side to side, wing to wing and up into the forward positions, Donovan’s pace and ability give the Yanks an added level of attacking impetus that concerns many defenses. As he has matured, his leadership and decision making has gotten better and has made the attack even more deadly when he is given sight of the ball. Keeping the young front line in order will be his task while splitting the defense will be expected from time to time.
Others to Watch: Steve Cherundolo, the midfield partner of Michael Bradley, Oguchi Onyewu/Clarence Goodson
Cherundolo has been injury plagued for some time when the national team has needed him. When healthy, the right back spot is his and a determined effort from the Hannover ‘96 man is going to be necessary. Onyewu is often the rock solid defender of the U.S. national team, but his conditioning from the patella tear that cost him almost his entire club season is still not 100%, whether it be from the physical or mental standpoint. If he’s not good to go, Goodson will be the man to partner DeMerit. A Dependable backup, Goodson will have to pull his weight with forwards like Peter Crouch of England and Novakovic of Slovenia being solid aerial threats. The most unsettled spot on the pitch is the partner of Bradley in midfield. Ricardo Clark has been in many times but it is maddeningly inconsistent. Maurice Edu is a more defensive paring that would free up Bradley to attack, while Jose Francisco Torres is much more attack minded, but questions have been raised about his willingness to get back on defense for a full 90 minute stretch, the match with Turkey notwithstanding.
England v. United States
Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, Phokeng
2:30 PM EST
Algeria v. Slovenia
Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane
7:30 AM EST
Slovenia v. United States
Ellis Park (Coca-Cola Park), Johannesburg
10:00 AM EST
England v. Algeria
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
2:30 PM EST
Slovenia v. England
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Cape Elizabeth
10:00 AM EST
United States v. Algeria
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
10:00 AM EST
Tags: 2010 World Cup, England, Soccer, United States