Group C: England, USA, Algeria, and Slovenia
If the USA does not get out of this group, we can forget progressing any other World Cup. This is their weakest opposition in the last 20 years.
England, Slovenia, and Algeria are all eminently beatable. One team making their second World Cup appearance, the other coming back after 24 years, and England a country scouring high and low for a 1966 repeat after spending a considerable time in the international wilderness.
In 2002, the most comparable year, the USA still had to face teams with better overall pedigrees. Portugal (5 World Cup appearances and a better international record in recent years compared to England), Poland (7 World Cup appearances and semi-finalists in 1974 and 1982), and South Korea (2002 hosts ending up as semi-finalists with eight other appearances in the World Cup).
We are talking of two spots and they are there for the taking.
Fabio Capello has molded an England team that seemed pretty unstoppable before Ukraine exposed some fatal flaws which Brazil took full advantage. So yes, we might lose but it is Slovenia and Algeria we have to take care of.
As in countless group encounters, goal differential becomes key and the advantage to all this is USA facing England first. The strongest team. After the match we can calibrate what needs to be done against Slovenia and Algeria.
A common theme binds the other three teams. England had to crawl out of the cesspool of their Euro 2008 campaign and literally re-invent themselves to get to the World Cup. Algeria had to go through a bloody conflagration in Cairo and a playoff at Khartoum to get to SA. Slovenia had to face Guus Hiddink and a hugely favoured Russia and knock them off against all odds. They know adversity.
Unfortunately we have made a living off the CONCACAF teat with only Mexico as a real rival. That is why when we are given as good a group as this, some still can't see the bright lights.
I am not saying that we need to be complacent. Far from it.
In a roundabout way we already have a measure of the Algerians. We beat their fiercest rivals, the Pharoahs this summer in SA, a match that heralded a historic turnaround in the Confederations Cup. We therefore need to do more against a team that is less individualistic than the Egyptians.
Slovenia is a strongly defensive team, conceding only four goals and scoring a modest 18 in their 10 qualifying matches. The Slovaks were two time losers to the Slovenians, the eventual leaders of their group. We lost to Slovakia in a recent friendly, so by extrapolation we again need to do more to do well against this team.
The strategy, therefore should be to limit the damage against England, go for a win against the Slovenians in order to force a draw, and turn the heat up against the Algerians.
Now go and prove yourselves, USA!
USA vs. England
Royal Bafokeng Stadium; Rustenburg, South Africa
June 12, 2010 @ 2:30 p.m. ET
USA vs. Slovenia
Ellis Park; Johannesburg, South Africa
June 18, 2010 @ 10 a.m. ET
USA vs. Algeria
Loftus Versfeld; Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa
June 23, 2010 @ 10 a.m. ET