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World Cup Preview – Group C

Depending on who you believe, “The hype surrounding this group could move mountains. That’s because it contains the Cup’s two most overrated teams, at least by their fans – England and the USA. But interestingly, Group C also has two of South Africa’s more underrated squads – Algeria and particularly Slovenia. Upsets are definitely possible in a group without a truly dominant squad.”

Or, “When the United States dramatically drew into England’s group, it looked as though Group C might be the proverbial ‘group of death.’ But then came two middling teams, Slovenia and Algeria, which softened the group and left no ambiguity about which teams will be expected to advance.”

Either way, this should be an entertaining group. With the USA/England game set for the opening match in this group, we should get a good early read on how the Americans will fare this time. According to ESPN’s analysis, even if the US can’t pick up a point in this game, they should still be in a solid position to advance, unlike 2006 when they never recovered from losing the first game.

England is the one team that should hold a special place in the hearts of Cleveland fans. Since winning the World Cup in 1966, the Three Lions have had heartbreaking losses to rival those of Cleveland. Since failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the English have played nearly impeccable soccer, compiling a pristine 9-0-1 record and plus-28 goal differential in UEFA qualifying. Their home league is arguably the best in the world – although the physical nature of the league leaves players worn out for the World Cup. They also drew into a relatively forgiving group and have the third-highest Soccer Power Index score behind only Brazil and Spain.

But injuries have already hit the team, as they lost captain Rio Ferdinand on Friday for the tournament. For a team with a possible fragile psyche, you never know what kind of impact that will have.

No matter what, though, England will always have their WAGs.

The USA should advance from this group as long as they don’t repeat their 2002 flop in Germany, where they lost twice and only pulled one point from the group stage. If that team shows up, they’re doomed.

Hopefully, we get the team from last year’s Confederations’ Cup that beat Spain – ending the European champions’ 35-match unbeaten streak. That was followed by a close loss to Brazil in the finals, giving the Americans a much-needed boost in confidence. Since then, the U.S. lost a much-anticipated qualifier in Mexico and has subsequently lost friendlies to Slovakia, Denmark and the Netherlands – matches where the States juggled injuries to Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu, and Charlie Davies. While results have not met the expectations set by the Spain win, the inability to get a healthy squad in place has given fans reason to hope last June’s results can be replicated, should the United States return to health.

Tim Howard in goal should be an additional plus in the game vs. England as Howard will be familiar with the England squad as he’s the No. 1 goalkeeper at Everton.

And the US will have at least one person of influence in South Africa rooting against them: South Africa’s police chief, General Bheki Sele: “Our famous prayer is that the Americans don’t make the second round,” he said, afraid that moving on in the tournament would bring President Barack Obama to South Africa to watch, creating a security nightmare.

According to ESPN, “The Slovenians played fine soccer in World Cup qualifying — including a playoff against Russia in which they advanced on the away-goals rule — but they did so out of a relatively weak group and after having performed terribly in their last major competition, Euro ’08, in which they failed to qualify and finished ahead of only Luxembourg in their group. Few of their players dot the rosters of the elite clubs in Europe. Slovenia has a fairly young roster and certainly seems to be on something of an upward trajectory — but if it were to advance from the group, it would mean that England or the United States failed to live up to expectations.”

And with their disciplined defense and propensity to score late in games (in contrast to the English and Americans), they could spring a surprise.

Algeria is one of the weakest teams (ranked 62nd in the world) to make the competition. Algeria qualified by upsetting Egypt in a playoff but was outmatched by the Egyptians when the teams played again in the African Nations Cup, with Algeria losing 4-0. More recently, it lost badly to Serbia in a 3-0 home friendly in March. Oof. The team is also upset that news leaked out that they will only get bonuses if they advance from the group, not just on a per-match basis. Not a good time in the week leading up to the start of the tournament.

Information for this preview was researched, and more team information is available, here, here, here, here and here.

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