World Cup fever has got it’s abnormal hold on my mind, body and soul this week as Friday’s opening match approaches like a cold sweat in the night, (if only World Cup fever was an adequate excuse to get out of work). Having awoke the previous two nights contemplating tactics and potential match ups for the England v USA game, I remain tired but at least ready to make a concrete prediction that England will win the match 2-0, better make that 3-0 if Bob Bradley starts Oguchi Onyewu.
With the dust starting to settle from all the hyped-up talk, (seriously do any of the English journos think England have a reasonable shot to even make the quarter finals?) deceiving but necessary friendlies, and pre-tournament injuries, my middle of the night analysis points to England’s ability to commit players forward, dominate the midfield, score goals when they’re not at their best and their ability to defend the United States’ counter attacking formation which will allow England to exploit the advantage they have of simply being better at every position.
I think and hope the US will advance out of this group and in fact hope they go quite far. However, I remain convinced that there are questions at the back that will prevent the US from keeping clean sheets in matches where one goal could be enough to face elimination. Also, in order to progress, Bob Bradley will have to pair striker Jozy Altidore up front with another central striker, possibly the in-form, but untested on a major international stage Edson Buddle. The space the US concedes from midfield if they place a second striker up front will allow games to become more open and free flowing thus exploiting the weakness the US has at the back, which is either Onyewu’s inclusion, or a back four that lacks cohesion. I’d be surprised if Bradley picks the aforementioned Onyewu to start v England. If that man is anywhere near match fit, then I’m Bozo the Clown.
I also get the distinct and worrisome idea that Bob Bradley isn’t quite sure who his best XI are. Take for instance a recent friendly between the US and Turkey. In the first half, the US looked like their old self conceding chance after chance to the semi final squad of Euro 2008, Turkey. In the 46th minute when Bob Bradley substituted the more attacking full back Steve Cherundolo and playmaker Jose Francisco Torres, two quality players not likely to start, for defensive minded Jonathon Spector and Ricardo Clark respectively, the US were a changed team with more fluid movement forward resulting in a sense of purpose and ultimately two goals, one a match winner.
As much as the USMNT has the fitness, strength and heart to give England fits, the US players give up skill, touch and finishing abilities to that of the English players. England will win against the US and the US will probably still advance to the round of 16 and hopefully further. A recent article stated the US fans need to beat England at all costs. I say to US Soccer fans as well, forget this obsessive idea in beating England and focus on getting out of the group, a more important goal than a one off game against a squad poised to go deep in this tournament.
England will win this match because they’re simply better in every position. England attack far more decisively and with pace. They’ve got far more depth coming off the bench with players such as Joe Cole, James Milner and Jermain Defoe. England also posses the ability to add important width to the pitch when right back Glen Johnson moves forward in support. In midfield, Aaron Lennon in all his brilliant pace can cause serious problems for a slow defence who sit back waiting to counter. England have two of the best attacking and versatile midfielders in this tournament in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and they’ll also continue to be dangerous from set pieces where goal scoring threats can come from a myriad of England players.
Regardless of who partners Rooney, if he plays up front alone, or just behind a central striker, England’s experience in big matches, more specifically their brilliant World Cup qualifying campaign under Fabio Capello will give them the confidence to brush past the US on way to a long World Cup run.