Group C seemed to be a pretty clear-cut affair before the World Cup started, with England and the USA clear favourites to qualify for the last 16. Slovenia have done their best to throw a spanner in the works, and after one round of matches top the table. Anything other than defeat in Friday’s game will leave the European side well placed to progress.
Not that the Slovenians were especially impressive in their group opener against Algeria. In what was something of a stodgy encounter, there were to be two defining moments. The first was a red card flourish in the face of Abdelkader Ghezzal for a handball of incredibly stupid proportions, and the second was a terrible error from Faouzi Chaouchi, who allowed Robert Koren’s tame late shot to beat him – the Slovenians didn’t so much as win as the Algerians simply imploded.
Gratefully accepting the gift, Slovenia’s performance against the Stars and Stripes will have to be more about graft. Left to take the initiative against the North Africans, the Europeans struggled, but Friday’s match will be more about what Slovenia specialise in: defending.
With only six goals conceded in 12 qualifying fixtures, there can be little doubt that Matjaz Kek’s side come into the tournament with the reputation of being one of the best-drilled ‘minnows’, and the little fish in the big pond will doubtless be very aware that they are perhaps only one good result away from causing a major upset.
Good start but a long way to go
Buoyed by an impressive performance at the Confederations Cup last year, the USA have returned to South Africa with the expectation of going deep in the tournament. Possibly lacking the quality to match 1930’s third placed finish, the Stars and Stripes showed in their opening encounter that they have the potential to be a handful for any of the big guns.
Paired against England, the Americans could not have made a worse start to their campaign as their defence was split in two after just four minutes, allowing Stephen Gerrard a simple opening goal. But the manner in which Bob Bradley’s side battled back was commendable, even if their infamous equalising goal had more than a hint of fortune attributed to it.
A point against one of the favourites to lift the trophy may not have seemed like a bad start, but it’s certainly put the pressure on, as Team USA were quick to acknowledge ahead of this must-not-lose affair.
“If we lose we're pretty much done," Clint Dempsey, the scorer of the leveller against England, told AFP at the time.
"We can't lose this next game. We have to get something from it.”
Star man Landon Donovan echoed such sentiments, stating: “A draw means we're still in the tournament. We have to be aware of that. That said, if we win, there's a very good chance we're going to get through and we are aware of that.”
So it’s not quite death or glory for the USA come Friday afternoon, but there is still a good deal riding on the outcome of this fixture as it will dramatically shape the final day of Group C action.
|Algeria 0-1 Slovenia
||England 1-1 U.S.A
|Slovenia 3-1 New Zealand
||U.S.A 3-1 Australia|
|Slovenia 4-1 Qatar
||U.S.A 2-4 Czech Republic|
|Slovenia 1-0 Russia
||U.S.A 2-1 Turkey|
|Russia 2-1 Slovenia
||Netherlands 2-1 U.S.A|
There were no surprises in the manner Slovenia lined up against Algeria, and there are unlikely to be any drastic changes made to the starting XI before the USA encounter. Coach Matjaz Kek seems to have settled on his strongest unit, though Zlatan Ljubijankic will challenge the hard working Zlatko Dedic for a starting berth.
Probable Starting XI: Handanovic; Brecko, Cesar, Suler, Jokic; Kirm, Radosavljevic, Koren, Birsa; Dedic, Novakovic
There has been a worry over the fitness of goalkeeper Tim Howard since he sustained a heavy knock against England, but the custodian has vowed to keep playing through the pain, even if it is discovered that his ribs are broken.
Bob Bradley is unlikely to veer significantly away from the side that matched the English, though Maurice Edu will be keen to regain a berth in the centre of the midfield in place of Ricardo Clark. Landon Donovan stands to win his 125th cap at the age of just 28.
Probable Starting XI: Howard; Cherundolo, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra; Donovan, Bradley, Clark, Dempsey; Altidore, Findlay
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Robert Koren was the scorer of Slovenia’s only goal in their opening day win, but his performance was about so much more than the tame strike that slipped under the arms of the goalkeeper and into the net. The unattached midfielder was very much the go-to player of his side, masterminding their best attacking moments from the middle of the park while also providing an industrious presence not afraid to get his shorts dirty.
Clint Dempsey also found the net in the opening round of fixtures, having his rather tame shot slip through Robert Green’s gloves and into the English net. The USA are rather lacking goals in attack – Jose Altidore has just nine in his international career and the combined tally of Robbie Findlay, Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle tallies only four – so it is important that the midfield supplements the forward players. Dempsey is well placed to do just that, boasting experience and an eye for the target.
The Castrol World Cup predictor is certainly not ruling out a Slovenia victory, giving them a 30 per cent chance of success, but the Stars and Stripes are estimated to have a 44 per cent shot at victory. On recent performances, the Americans should certainly pick up the full complement of points, and it would go down as a significant shock if the Europeans were to pinch anything better than a low scoring draw.
Slovenia 0-2 USA
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