10:00 AM- United States vs. Slovenia
We are going to pick these a bit out of order today as our countrymen take on Slovenia in their second match. Slovenia is a side that got a bit of the same luck as the US as the Algerian keeper fumbled one into his own net, moving Slovenia to the top of the group. However, Slovenia were not especially impressive in that match, and, for that matter, neither were Algeria. The US draw against England was far more impressive than the Slovenian victory, but that does not mean any of that will translate onto the field.
Here is what I know about Slovenia, and keep in mind, this is a full list. They are a very large team, that is not afraid to be physical and will do a lot of its scoring through the header. They also do not concede many goals, so even a single goal could be key for the US. They do not concede many, but they do not score many, so that single goal may very well be enough for the US to save themselves a lot of trouble. Slovenia has one guy with 16 goals (Novakovic), and other than that they are not much of a threat to score. This will not be a free-flowing, attacking, entertaining affair if Slovenia has its way. It will be a knock-down, drag-out fight, so prepare yourselves.
Landon Donovan said it best, “If we cannot beat Slovenia, then we do not deserve to advance”. Spot on. Slovenia is a team we should beat. They are a team we should handle without a great deal of stress, and if we cannot do that then we do not deserve to advance beyond the group stages. I understand that anything can happen in the World Cup, but if we cannot defeat Slovenia, we are not worthy of the 2nd round.
Alright, so let’s get down to the US-Slovenia matchup in its nuts and bolts. Slovenia is a large team, but I think that plays into the strengths of thee US. Oguchi Onyewu, assuming he is healthy, and it looked like he was against England, is a big man who can match up with the large Slovenia strikers. With large usually comes slower, and that too plays into the US hands. They have fairly slow defenders, and there will be no Aaron Lennons to terrorize Carlos Bocanegra this time. The toughness and roughness of Slovenia also might play against them if the US can get some free kicks, as the US is very good on set pieces. Add to that the superior talent level of the US and it should be a romp, right?
No. We have seen several times in this World Cup teams like Spain, Brazil, France, etc. that have towering talent levels, but just fail to break down the opponent’s defense for long periods of time. Slovenia is extremely organized in the back and crazier things have happened than the US failing to knock one home against an organized squad.
Now, before we get to the pick, we should discuss the Group C situations depending on the US result. If the US loses, all is lost. I know that sounds fatalist and is not necessarily accurate, but by all accounts, that would be horrible. I am assuming England beats Algeria, and probably by more than one. That puts England on 4 points, Slovenia on 3, and the US on 1 heading into the US-Slovenia match. Losing would put Slovenia on 6, and would mean that Slovenia would have to beat England, AND the US would have to out-goal-differential England. Not happening.
If the US ties, it would put the US on 2 points, and England and Slovenia tied at 4 at the top. These two teams still have to play each other, so all is not lost, but things get complicated. The US needs to beat Algeria into the ground to improve their GD, and hope that Sloveniadoes not manage to draw England. That would put everyone even on 5 points, and just be chaotic. That is a roll of the dice we really do not want to deal with. Survivable, but dreadfully anxiety-causing.
If the US wins, they will sit atop the group with England on 4 points. It then turns into a competition of GD and seeing if the US can beat Algeria and Slovenia by more than England. This assumes the US beats Algeria, which is not really a sure bet, but is something the US, once again, should do. A win means we have an excellent opportunity of advancing, and a chance at winning the group.
Much has been made of the Slovenian guarantee of beating the US. The players don’t care. I don’t care. The media cares because their story lines mostly had to do with England. Soccer players have enough of an ego to get them going as it is, they don’t need any bulletin board material when it is just one guy beign confident about himself and not even disparaging the other team.
So what’s the pick? The US should win. They have the matchup advantages, and judging by how they played against England, they have more than enough quality to beat Slovenia. I could see a draw, but I believe in this team right now. Tim Howard bails the US out at least once and keeps the clean sheet. If he is somehow not healthy, all bets are off. U-S-A!
United States 1-0 Slovenia
7:30 AM- Germany vs. Serbia
Going into the tournament, I had this as the spot where Serbia rises to the top of the group to stay. How wrong I was. Germany seem to have already taken a decisive lead in GD, and Serbia looked very mediocre against a well-drilled Ghana side. I am a little unsure where to go here. I find it hard to believe a team as good as Serbia loses its first two matches, but I also find it hard to bet against a team that just played as well as Germany did. Remember, their 4 goals represented the only offensive explosion of the first slate of games in an otherwise very defensive World Cup. It will be a fantastic game to watch, but I am very unsure on whom to pick. My head says draw, my gut says Germany, and my Serbian friends say Serbia. I like Serbia’s team better, but I like Germany in this game.
Germany 2-1 Serbia
2:30 PM- England vs. Algeria
This is a match of two teams that are cursing their goalies. Algeria let in a very soft goal to Slovenia, and we all know about Robert Green’s blunder. There is no doubting England is the more talented side and, to me, there is no doubting the result. This is life and death for England, and I think they want to live, so they will win. I really don’t even have a reason for hope for Algeria. England is angry and feels like it needs to score about 15 goals to release the pent up anger, and Algeria just happens to be the team in front of them. This does not mean the sum England’s parts will suddenly be greater than the parts themselves, but they will be the better team on the day by quite a bit.
England 3-0 Algeria