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World Cup 2010 Preview: USA - England

HARTBEESPOORT DAM, South Africa - And so, we come to it: The match the world has been anticipating since the December 2nd draw is finally upon us. United States-England. Royal Bafokeng Stadium. June 12. 8:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Not only is the tilt massive in terms of interest, it's the World Cup kick off for both squads. A win for either side means the knockout stage lies just one victory away. A loss won't be disastrous but makes the road out of the gro up much more difficult. When the final whistle blows, however, neither will earn three points as the Americans and the English will find themselves deadlocked.

Questions in the Back

Is Oguchi Onyewu ready to play 90 minutes? If not, can Clarence Goodson and Jay DeMerit figure out their partnership? How much has John Terry lost? Ledley King as a starter? Really? A combination of injuries and Father Time has cost both teams on the backline. Central defense, once a U.S. strength, is now a question mark, while the same can be said for their opponents. The Americans needs their A.C. Milan defender at somewhere close to full strength to negate England's attack. Fabio Capello must wonder if his aging men in the middle can handle the youth, bulk, and speed of the Stars and Stripes revived and revamped strikeforce. One of the four will blink. The only question is when and how costly will the mistake be?

Midfield Magic

On paper, Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard against Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark (or Maurice Edu) isn't much of a battle. The former two are decorated stars with their posters affixed to bedroom walls around the globe. The American pair might have a couple 8x10s lying around on a floor somewhere. The reality, however, is that the two Bundesligers can contain England's central pair. Both Bradley and Clark are tenacious tacklers, capable of hassling the two lions for 90 minutes. (They can provide a bit of offensive spark as well.) One key will be the American's ability to avoid picking up fouls in dangerous positions. The deadly free kicks of Gerrard and Lampard (and, yes, the ball) make this even more necessary. Also, watch to see if the U.S. central midfield and defense closes England's shooters down quickly. The Americans are occasionally lax when it comes to stopping the rush, and they've paid in the past (Guiseppe Rossi, Confederations Cup).

Containing Crouch

With the sincerest apologies to Wayne Rooney, the match hinges on the performance of England's lanky striker. The U.S. struggled mightily to deal with crosses against Australia and the height of Crouch will be double trouble for the backline, especially if Onyewu can't be his normally dominant self in the air. Goodson has the physical makeup to compete with the Tottenham Hotspur striker, but he hasn't shown the necessary aptitude for positional awareness. DeMerit boasts the opposite problem. Rooney will get his; whether Crouch does as well will mean the difference between a result and a defeat. On the other side, Altidore sounds like he's recovering from a scary ankle sprain nicely. “It’s getting better for sure," he said during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. "I didn’t think I had anything that serious to the point where I’d have to be relieved from the tournament, so I’m happy about that." Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey can create, but the young forward and Findley need to finish their chances.

But Does it Really Matter?

The media is telling everyone who will listen -- and even those who won't -- how important this match is. (Heck, this article did four paragraphs ago.) And yet, this game doesn't mean a whole lot. There's the "we want to get off on the right foot, etc. etc." rhetoric from both sides, but six points (and possibly four) will earn a team a birth in the knockout stage. That means the Red and White and the Red, White, and Blue simply need to win the matches they're favored in against Slovenia and Algeria, and they'll advance no matter what happens on the pitch Saturday night. U.S. v England happens to be a wonderful storyline, but it's hardly do or die.

Projected U.S. Line Up

----------------------Howard---------------------

Cherundolo--Onyewu--DeMerit--Bocanegra

Dempsey-----Clark-----Bradley-----Donovan

-------------Findley---------Altidore------------

 

Projected England Line Up 

-------------------Green------------------

Johnson----King----Terry----A. Cole

Lennon--Lampard--Gerrard--J. Cole

---------Crouch--------Rooney---------

Goal.com Prediction

United States 1-1 England

Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com and is reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.