This is only Algeria’s third trip in history to the World Cup, having never made it past the group stage. Their greatest (only 1 of 2 overall) win was against West Germany in 1982, and they will yet again be another team of homegrown players that lack European experience. A positive for the team, however, is that they led their group in qualifying, defeating the likes of Senegal and Liberia. This team lacks any real start talent, and I am quite sure they will be at the bottom of this group.
Ahhh, England. Get ready for the long haul, for this is one of the teams I’ll be supporting (after USA, of course) and could see making it to the finals or semis at least. England has been a mixture of unlucky, stupid, and naive in the last few World Cups, and has only won the trophy once, in 1966 when they were the host nation. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, in their book Soccernomics attribute it to various reasons, some having to do with numbers as well as a certain arrogance at claiming to be the home of the game. One main problem is sort of an ironic one–there is not a single player on the England squad that plays outside of England. Yes, the English Premier League is one of, if not the best, league in the world. Many of their players have experience playing against the myriad of foreigners in England that will be in South Africa, but the only experience English players have against the style of play that many other countries will bring to the table is that of the Champions’ League. This will be England’s only saving grace–that players like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, and Ashley Cole have played in the Champions’ League since they started at their clubs. Rooney, Gerrard, Ferdinand and other Man United and Liverpool players have won the Champions’ League as well. This kind of experience makes up for the apparent xenophobia apparent in the England roster. But I digress, how will England do in the group stage? Will they progress even further? I definitely believe so; the only real test England has in the group will be the USA, though I’ll admit Slovenia will be a tough nut to crack but England can do it. (I’ll touch on the US v England match later) In the goal we have a couple world class keepers in Joe Hart (has won multiple awards for his amazing goalkeeping at Birmingham this year) as well as experience (lots and lots) with David James. I’d honestly pick Hart first, for he is young and could prove to be England’s savior. Next, defenders–this is an area that has been a pain in the arse for Fabio Capello in the past months. Injuries to John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, and Ashley Cole have wrought the brains of the manager as well as the rest of England. Capello begged Jamie Carragher (Liverpool player, ‘retired’ from international football in 2007 over a fallout with then-manager Steve McLaren) to come back, which he did, in order to be used as cover at right-back for Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson as well as centre back cover if needed. The midfield is also an interesting issue for Capello–England has some of the best midfielders in the world, but how do you choose who and where? In my opinion the best thing England can do is go with a 4-4-2 diamond (two wingers, one attacking mid, one holding/defensive mid), especially against stronger opposition. If Gareth Barry is fit, he would be the most obvious choice for that holding mid position, but if he isn’t able to play and England needs this anchor man position, Capello must turn to Tom Huddlestone or Michael Carrick, but it could also be the ever-useful James Milner, whose versatility I admire just as Capello does. I’d prefer Milner on a wing, but he has the tackling ability and passing vision to play in the anchor man role if needed. Now as far as the two wingers go, I think they need to be playing far outside, hugging the touchline so as to stretch out play. Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard could play on either side, but I’d prefer Frank on the right, with either Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Theo Walcott, or Adam Johnson on the left. (though I suppose those could be switched) I think that any of these young talents has the speed to rip through defenses and cross inside. Lampard has great all-over skill and is perfect for overlapping and cutting inside from the wing. Next, the top of the diamond. I admit I’m a little biased in that Steven Gerrard is my favorite player and I consider him to be the absolute best around. He has an amazing shot, great speed, and the creative vision to know what to do and when to do it on the attack. Some say it should be a 4-4-1-1 with Stevie being the deeply withdrawn striker, but I disagree in that another striker should be in this position so that Stevie can feed the ball to him or play a quick 1-2. Ahhh, the striker debate. Wayne Rooney is obviously England’s main striker and will, other than weak group matches (cough Algeria, cough) he will be playing furthest forward, ready to do whatever is necessary to score. Now for his striker partner…I’m gonna go with Peter Crouch or Emile Heskey starting, in order to bring down high balls or crosses to feed to Rooney (or score themselves, Crouchy is on terrific form at present), but in games where goals have not been easily scored, Jermain Defoe should either come in as a substitute or start alongside Rooney. He may be short, but he has great finishing ability and seems to work fairly well with Rooney in that Rooney will be the target man of sorts that must fight defenses on his own, with Defoe playing ‘off the shoulder’ in order to poach loose balls or finish off a pass from Rooney.
Next, Slovenia. Another snoozeville team that has players playing all around the world–in second divisions and places like Belgium. This team simply has no terrific talents, and despite a well-fought playoff win against Russia, this team seems to always be hanging by a thread. I only see Slovenia beating Algeria, with draws even seeming unlikely against England or the US.
Finally, the great US of A. The main reason I’m extremely excited about the World Cup, to see my country play with the big boys that I watch day in and day out in England, Spain, Italy. I first want to recognize Charlie Davies, who was in horrific car crash only a few months ago and was told he would definitely not be at the World Cup, much less be able to train. But, he has healed tremendously and has been training for a couple months now, after having so many surgeries to places all over his body. He’s been nicknamed the Terminator, and would have been a great talisman for the US in South Africa. However, his damned club, Sochaux FC in France, is supposedly not allowing him to leave because he had barely played for Sochaux after arriving and they want to be sure they have their money’s worth. It pains me deeply to not see him this summer, he would have been stupendous to have on the squad. Ok, enough sorrow. The United States has one of the best goalkeepers in the English Premier League, top 10 in all of Europe–Tim Howard, of Everton FC. (yeah, yeah, I know. he’s a bluenose) Tim is a very commanding keeper, and has experience against some of the best strikers at the World Cup, such as Drogba, Torres, and Rooney. On defense the US has solid back-four options, though they are admittedly far from the best in the world. Oguchi Onyewu, who recently renewed his AC Milan contract to play for an entire year for free to make up his injury-prone past year, is a solid rock at centre back and has the strength to outmuscle even the biggest strikers. The other constant for the US defense is captain Carlos Bocanegra–this guy is an excellent defender, available to play as a full-back or centre back and is an inspiring presence on the field as well. As quick and pacey as Jonathan Spector (swooping in the cross that Dempsey headed in to score against Brazil last year), the US’ now-likely-to-start right-back, who play for West Ham in England, is easily outstripped by wingers and strikers, and will have to improve his pace if he’s going to stop the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, or James Milner. For midfield, the USA has a few options for some of the positions, with Sasha Kljestan, Stu Holden, Michael Bradley and DeMarcus Beasley all being solid at most positions. The two midfielders that will truly make the difference in the United States’ matches are Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Dempsey has made a huge name for himself at Fulham in England, and all the doubters of Landon Donovan (myself included) were proved wrong when he went on loan to Everton earlier this year and was an absolute nightmare to every defense he played against. These two both have speed, accuracy, and skill to make any position, from left wing to striker even, their own. Finally, strikers. Charlie aside, the US only has one truly solid striker in Jozy Altidore, who had an unfortunately less-than-amazing season on loan at Hull City (which was relegated) in England. Nevertheless, Jozy is a stronger, quick, and intelligent attacker that will likely start every game for the US. Possibly one of the better ways to play with Jozy is to have, say Landon Donovan, playing a withdrawn striker role so that he can burst into the box and play a 1-2 or something with Jozy, as long as there is adequate midfield cover behind him. Depending on the game, I think the US is likely to play a narrow midfield that allows the fullbacks to attack up the flanks to give depth, for the US needs to congest the midfield as much as possible if they want to work the ball forward. The one truly good thing about the US midfield is that they communicate well and many of the experienced players do well with Bradley’s tactics.
Wow, that was long winded, I apologize. If you read all of that, I admire you deeply.
Most interesting match: US v England, the match of the tournament for me. I’m going to be in Orlando and have already started researching a pub I can go to to watch this match. My country against some of my favorite players as well as a team and country that I’ve sort of adopted through my consumption of British media. This match will be hard fought, with the midfield battle raging constantly. I don’t imagine Jozy and/or his striker partner to have a lot of service. In fact, I expect something of a 4-2-3-1 or strict 4-5-1 from Bob Bradley in order to counter Rooney’s speed and the English midfield’s skill and passing ability. Unfortunately, I peg this as a 2-1 to England. Rooney and either Gerrard or Lampard score and Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan managing to strip England’s wishy washy fullbacks.
Most goals: Wayne Rooney- 2
1. England – 9 points
2. USA – 6 points
3. Slovenia – 3 points
4. Algeria – 0 points