The United States drew a potentially positive group for next summer’s World Cup on Friday. The group as described by some European papers “is wide open” below the runaway favorite, England.
This group creates more possibilities of going forward for the United States than any of the potential draws that naysayers, so blatantly shouted on about all week. Algeria, is participating in its first World Cup since 1986, and is without debate the worst African qualifier for these finals.
While the Algerians have some quality players featuring at decent European sides, much like the USA they feature a number of journeymen players who do not have the experience internationally, or the organization from the federation to make an impact. From a talent standpoint the two sides are evenly matched, but the US has a better manager, more organization and ultimately more discipline than the Algerians.
The US also lucked out in not facing a sub Saharan side in these finals, the first on the African continent. “African Pride” as it is described doesn’t necessarily apply to the Arab nations of North Africa. Algeria will have no home advantage in South Africa.
While I would not discard Algeria entirely, I do believe the US should fare well against them, should the US remain focused. However, they are the last group game for Bob Bradley’s side, and the first two group matches are far more challenging.
England will beat the United States. Despite the match being played at altitude, I watched these teams face off in person last year from Wembley and do not believe the match will be remotely competitive.
My analysis may change based on the injury situation and the form of the players on both sides, but right now I believe England will have its way with the United States in the opener.
Following likely defeat against England, the US will face tiny Slovenia. The former Yugoslav Republic is the least populated nation to qualify for the World Cup more than once. The wealthiest part of the Balkans, the Slovenes defeated Russia in a two leg tie last month to advance to South Africa.
I saw on Twitter yesterday discussion of Algeria being weak because they lost to Egypt and the US crushed Egypt in the Confederations Cup. Even if this is a valid argument (The Egypt team the US beat had omitted Zaki and Mido), and ignoring Algeria’s two wins over Egypt in qualifying, one must then ask how would the US fare in a two leg tie versus Russia?
Would the US’ advance if matched up with Russia? The answer to this question doesn’t tell us that Slovenia can beat the United States but it tells us that sleeping on Slovenia is a dangerous proposition.
The US’ drawing an Eastern European team in the World Cup group stage is usually bad news. Each of the last five World Cups, the US has drawn a side from Eastern Europe, and each time the US has lost. How bad has it been? The combined score of those five matches has been 13-2. Ouch.
Slovenia’s team is well organized and disciplined. They very rarely lose their shape at the back. Coming through what can only be described as a brutal qualifying group that included two sides that have beaten the US in recent World Cups, and another team that just beat the US in a friendly, the team gelled.
Rene Krhin is a young flair player to keep an eye on for Slovenia. Milivoje Novakovic is an effective striker for Koln in the Bundesliga and has also done a masterful job for Slovenia. Another player, I am familiar with is Real Betis man, Branco Illic who has been playing in Russia this year. He’s a superior man marker that can slide inside and serve as a physical lockdown corner so to speak, in American football terms.
The US typically struggles with physically imposing and organized sides. That’s why every World Cup, with different sets of players, the US struggles against Eastern European teams. While Slovenia lacks the overall quality and depth of the Czech Republic or Romania, previous torturers of the United States, their side is similar in style to Croatia who has been a nuisance in recent World Cups and Euros.
Additionally, the US tends to go through peaks and valleys in major tournaments. Often times bad performances snowball in the following match, or the US makes a miraculous recovery and plays at the highest level. Consistency is something the US has strived for since the mid 1990s, and has still not achieved.
While the US has better players than Slovenia and more depth (the same can be said for Algeria when compared to the Slovenes), the match will be a close affair. The United States will have to be at its best to defeat the tiny nation.