Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Group C Preview!

On the surface this should be one of the easiest groups to handicap. England is coming into the tournament as a favorite to at least reach the semi finals, coming off a strong qualifying campaign. The United States also enters the tournament off another strong CONCACAF qualifying group finishing first. The fortunes of the other two teams was not as smooth, both Algeria and Slovenia had to qualify on the last days via playoffs against Egypt and Russia respectively. However this can be be seen as an ability to perform under pressure, which could hurt the to group front runners if they underestimate their opponents.

Aside from Brazil the team that will have the most pressure from its fans to win is England. Many feel that the "England Expects" attitude from its supporters and press has led to its previous downfalls in the World Cup. The pressure this year will be no different. In fact it might be higher than ever before based on the strong qualifying campaign, and the football prowess of manager Fabio Capello.

Despite all of the tactical, and more importantly disciplinary changes the core of the squad is virtually the same as it was in 2006. Going forward the team will rely heavily on Forward Wayne Rooney to score goals and set up the attack. In order for that to happen Rooney will require a strong strike partner, Capello so far has mainly chosen Emile Heskey for this role. His job would be to hold up the ball in order to link up with Rooney or the midfielders. There is still debate on whether Heskey is the best player to partner with Rooney, however it seems Capello is intent on having a hold up center forward along side Rooney.

The other key players on this years squad are Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Captain Rio Ferdinand. Of concern to Fabio Capello with be the combination of Lampard and Gerrard in the midfield. The long standing belief is that the two like minded players cannot function side by side on the pitch. However the myth was some what debunked during qualifying, with England playing some its best football with the two on the pitch. If the defense lead by Captain Rio Ferdinand, and former Captain John Terry can hold off a relatively weak attacking group, you can book England's place in the round of 16.

The North African country is making it 3rd world cup appearance with many pegging this version of the Desert Foxes the strongest ever. However the question will be can it pull off at least one upset to give itself a chance to qualify for the second round for the first time? After the dramatics of qualifying for the world cup in a sudden death playoff against its most bitter of rivals Egypt. (Click here for a history of how intense the rivalry is) Algeria must now concentrate on playing the best football it has ever played in order to get out of the group.

The Foxes are and attack minded team with a decent midfield and a respectable back four. Going forward has never been too much of a problem for Algeria in African play, however in international friendlies they haven't found the back of the net with the same amount of ease. Much of the goal scoring will have to come from 35 year old Rafik Saïfi who is the oldest player on the current squad. Aside from him many of the forwards are unproven at the International level. Kamel Ghilas is another option up front, but even he only has 16 caps for the national team. The midfield is much the same, with Captain Yazid Mansouri and Karim Ziani holding the bulk of the international experience. This team will have to be lead from the back, which is never a good sign in a world cup (unless you're Germany). Nadir Belhadj and Madjid Bougherra will have to be extremely good in this tournament in order for Algeria to steal a game from either the U.S or England. In the case of Belhadj, he may even have to chip in with a few goals like he has done for his club team Portsmouth.

Overall it will be very hard to see Algeria moving on from the group, they have too little firepower compared to their opponents, which will force the team to defend...alot. Which in turn will lead to goals against.

The minnows of this group will be looking to have a strong showing at this world cup, as it is only their 2nd appearance at the tournament. This squad is fairly unknown as most of its players play in smaller leagues around Europe, however it was able to shock Russia in a European qualifying playoff to secure their birth to South Africa.

This tournament will be used by the Slovenian FA to further build its growing program, the country has some promising young talent coming through the ranks and are starting to find their way in qualifying for major tournaments. However the group will prove a step to far for them as they continue to improve. This team wins games with its strong back four lead by veteran Boštjan Cesar. The shape on the pitch for the team is one of a defensive tone, usually only employing one striker on front in an attempt to link up play with the midfield. This can prove problematic in this group especially if their opponent is able to control the ball and dictate play. It would virtually leave them with one less player avaliable as he will be standing away from the goal, isolated.

The Key players on this squad will be Robert Koren and Valter Birsa. They will have to create what they can form the midfield in order to go forward. Young Rene Krhin may also be able to help create offence, however at 20 years of age he'll have to mature quickly. He is a gifted technical player who has a potentially bright future ahead of him at Inter Milan.

The bottom line is that this team is a 3 and out team, it will be interesting to see how they do in qualifying for the 2012 Euro tournament as they are drawn in a group with Italy. However in 2010 Slovenia just won't have enough.

The great fear for a long time in the football world was that one day Americans will start to actually care about Football or Soccer, and when they did we'd be seeing the world cup trophy paraded to the White House. Well for those so called "football purists" breathe easy it isn't here yet, but it's coming and sooner than they think. The Americans have qualified for 6 straight World Cup tournaments, and in every tournament (aside from 1998) have fielded a stronger team each time. This particular squad has the tools possible to advance past the round of 16, if they can prevent a shock result in the first round.

In 2009 the U.S competed in their first international final in the Confederations Cup against Brazil. If their performance in that short tournament was an indicator, they will be a handful in South Africa. The U.S beat World Cup tournament favorites Spain 2-0 breaking their 36 match unbeaten streak, then took Brazil to the limit in the final going into half time up 2-0 before Brazil turned it up a notch and beat them 3-2 in a thriller.

The squad is built around strong midfield build up play. With the exception of Landon Donovan none of the midfield players has a game breaker quality to them. What the midfielders have is a very high work rate which is comparable to England, but with less skill. Upfront the options are decent with either Client Dempsey or Donovan able to move from the midfield and play upfront. Outside of those two the choices are thin, Jozy Altidore is a fine player but needs to step his game up to the next level, and Edson Buddle is fairly unproven at the international level. At the back the defenders are once again decent, and probably good enough to see them though to the next round. However the strength of the defence for the U.S is their excellent goalkeepers. Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Guzan are all solid keepers that can win you matches. Howard especially as he is the number 1 will be called on to win a game or two for them in this tournament.

The Key players without a doubt are Landon Donovan and Client Dempsey, if these two are no scoring or setting up goals them the Americans will be in alot more trouble then they should be. The two players account for almost 70% of the goals score by the current roster. With Donovan being the all time leading scorer for the U.S alot of attention will be coming his way from defenders, this means Dempsey will have to fill any void and bang in goals.

The American should be getting through to the round of 16 in that second spot, though they may have road bump in Algeria. Overall though they should have enough to see the group stages through.

So there you have it Group C down.. now on the group D!


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