England, USA shoo-ins to advance: Group C
By QMI Agency
World Cup history: 13th appearance, 25 wins, 17 draws, 13 losses, 74 GF, 47 GA.
Best finish: Winners in 1966.
The oddsmakers say: 13/2
Players to watch: F Wayne Rooney; MF Steven Gerrard: MF Frank Lampard.
The skinny: After decades of underachieving and undisciplined performances, manager Fabio Capello appears to be pushing all the right buttons in his quest to lead England to its first World Cup crown since 1966. Pre-World Cup friendly victories over Mexico and Japan only served to balloon the optimism that already had been starting to swell in the months leading up to South Africa. Capello deserves a lot of credit here. The entire country lapsed into depression when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, a setback that cost manager Steve McLaren his job. In stepped Capello, who immediately added structure off the field, requiring players to wear blazers to dinner and banning cell phones during meals. England always has enjoyed the talent to go far; now they finally might have the coach that can lead them over the final hurdle.
The outlook: The bar has been set high in England and rightly so. Should the English win this group as expected, they could have an easy road to the quarter-final and beyond. A showdown with the U.S., on June 12, will be England’s toughest test of the preliminary round.
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World Cup history: Ninth appearance, 6 wins, 3 draws, 16 losses, 27 GF, 51 GA.
Best finish: Semi-finals, 1930.
>The oddsmakers say: 80/1.
Players to watch: F Landon Donovan: MF Michael Bradley; F Jozy Altidore.
The skinny: The Americans will have mixed feelings when they step back on a South African pitch again. A year ago, they built a 2-0 lead in the final of the Confederations Cup over mighty Brazil. Had that score-line held up, the result arguably might have been the most significant win in U.S. soccer history. But the high-flying Brazilians were not about to let that happen, scoring three times in the second half for the come-from-behind 3-2 victory. The Americans understandably were gutted. “Up 2-0, we should have been able to kill the game off,” said Landon Donovan, the Americans’ best player. “We weren’t happy with just going that far in the final. We felt we had to demand more of ourselves.” They’ll get their chance at redemption this time around.
The outlook: Pencilled in by most pundits to finish second in the group, a positive result versus England in the opener might be enough to pave the way for the Americans to finish on top, thereby avoiding a potential matchup with the Germans in the round of 16. Either way, anything less than advancing to the next round will be considered a disappointment.
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World Cup history: Third appearance, 2 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses, 6 GF, 10 GA.
Best finish: Preliminary round, 1982, 1986.
The oddsmakers say: 500/1.
Players to watch: MF Mourad Meghni; D Nadir Belhadj; MF Hassan Yebda.
The skinny: After a 24-year absence, Algeria, also known as the “Desert Foxes,” is making its return to the World Cup. Having eked their way into South Africa 2010 thanks to a dramatic playoff win over north African rivals Egypt, coach Rabah Saadane's Algerians are a composed bunch to say the least. That was never more evident than during the qualifying round when the Algerian team bus was attacked while making its way from the airport for a game against Egypt in Cairo. Rather than have his players freak out, Saadane found a way to keep them calm, cool and collected. They’ll have to stay that way if they expect to enjoy any success against fellow Group C opponents England and the U.S. Saadane, by the way, is on his fifth stint as Algerian coach.
The outlook: With the English and Americans appearing to be shoo-ins to advance, the Algerians might have to settle for the moral victory of edging out Slovenia for third place in Group C.
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World Cup history: Second appearance, 0 wins, 0 draws, 3 losses, 2 GF, 7 GA.
Best finish: Preliminary round, 1982.
The oddsmakers say: 400/1.
Players to watch: F Milivoje Novakovic; F Zlatko Dedic; MF Robert Koren.
The skinny: Of all the upsets in the various qualifying groups around the globe, perhaps none was more stunning than Slovenia’s elimination of the Big Bad Russians. Forward Zlatko Dedic became a Slovenian sporting icon when his winning goal pushed his team through to a berth in South Africa, crushing Russian hopes in the process. “We’ve realized a dream: to be among the best teams in the world,” manager Matjaz Kek said. In order to enjoy any kind of success in South Africa, Kek will rely on a tough, hard-nosed defence that makes Slovenia a very difficult foe to line up against. Consider that Slovenia allowed just six goals in 12 qualifying games, a key reason that the country is celebrating just its second all-time berth in a World Cup.
The outlook: Given that Slovenia eliminated heavily favoured Russia, you can never count these guys out. But it will be a steep hill to climb, especially since they have to face England and the U.S. in the first round.