Sunday, June 6, 2010

World Cup 2010: Group C Preview

The four squads in Group C are split between those expected to advance- England and the United States, and those looking to spring an upset- Algeria and Slovenia. With the favorites kicking off in one of the tournament's most anticipated matches, the group's pecking order should be established early. Here's a closer look.

Expectations are sky high for England and that's not necessarily a good thing. An impressive qualifying run under Fabio Capello washed away the stench of failing to advance to Euro 2008, and now the Three Lions are a trendy dark horse pick. Unfortunately the weight of a nation's desperate expectations often hamper England, especially when it comes to the dreaded shootout. Up front, the English feature veteran firepower with Premier League rivals Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. The defense has been gutted by injuries, the most recent to captain Rio Ferdinand, and goaltending is never an English strength. Don't be surprised to see England in some high scoring contests, but if the goals are coming from Rooney and Co., Capello's men will advance easily.

The trend following the United States since their return to the World Cup in 1990 points towards a positive tournament in 2010. The Yanks have alternated between disastrous showings in Europe and knockout round appearances elsewhere. With the experience gained reaching last year's Confederations Cup Final, the team should feel comfortable in South Africa. Bob Bradley's side have a disturbing habit of coughing up leads. Last summer they lead in games against Italy, Spain, Brazil and Mexico, but lost three of the four. Team spark plug Landon Donovan knows that this tournament could define his career after a strong showing with Everton and if he can connect with a healthy Jozy Altidore up front, we'll see the Stars and Stripes into the round of 16 once again.

Slovenia are hoping to continue the run of play that saw them top Russia in the European qualifying playoffs. Serie A-based goalkeeper Samir Handanovic has a habit of frustrating opponents, something he'll need to do for a team that has struggled when falling behind. If the talented Rene Krhin and Nejc Pecnik come of age in South Africa, Slovenia are best suited to upset the England-U.S. party.

There's no shortage of major European club experience on the Algeria roster, but scoring goals will be a challenge for the Desert Foxes, one of the final qualifiers from Africa. Inconsistent results heading into the World Cup leave Rabah Saadane's men hoping for a repeat of their stunning 1982 upset of West Germany.

Prediction: There's no reason to think that England and the U.S. won't both advance, and the winner of their opening match will be positioned for a deep run. Recent head-to-head results favor the English, who should sweep the group, further raising those always burdensome expectations.

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