Surprise in Group C: US and England on the ropes for third matches

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

US, England face decisive matches

JOHANNESBURG — Group C was supposed to be a romp through the first round of the World Cup for the English and Americans.

That romp has turned into an obstacle course, and both teams have stumbled. Although each can advance to the second round Wednesday with wins, such victories hardly are givens considering how they have played.

The U.S. team fell behind to both England and Slovenia before rallying for two draws. England also has two ties, the second with Algeria causing all kinds of angst back home.

Not since 1958 in Sweden has England failed to advance past the group stage once it’s qualified for the tournament. The Americans have not been so successful, but their hopes were high when they came to South Africa after finishing second to Brazil at the Confederations Cup a year ago.

A loss to Algeria (10 a.m. at Pretoria) would eliminate the Americans far earlier than most expected, and even a draw wouldn’t be enough if England defeats Slovenia (10 a.m. at Port Elizabeth). Star midfielder Landon Donovan doesn’t think it will happen.

“The two World Cups I’d been a part of, we hadn’t strung together three consecutive good results and good performances,” he said. “I think this team has the experience and the ability to do that, and we’ll find out on Wednesday night.

“Being down 2-0 (to Slovenia) with your World Cup on the line is a difficult and daunting task to overcome. But the way we’ve been hardened in a lot of ways over the years has made that possible, and I think we’re extremely excited for Wednesday.”

Algeria should be, too. If the Desert Foxes win and England loses, the Algerians move on.

“If Algeria plays to its potential we don’t need to worry about our opponents,” striker Karim Matmour said. “If we play our style of football we can beat anyone.”

For England, the criticism back home could turn to a volcano of venom should it be eliminated in the opening round. Its players are very aware that the pressure has been ramped up to unimaginable levels, with reports of a discord on the team.

“A rift honestly isn’t there,” Frank Lampard said. “When things get difficult in football — results and performances — people will try to say there are factions (within the squad) and we have to make sure we stay very united.

“We’re not happy with how we’re playing as a group. Nobody is.”

Well, Slovenia is. Had the Slovenes held on to their lead against the Americans last week, they’d already be in the round of 16.

Now, a draw against England and the smallest nation in the field (about 2 million inhabitants) moves on.

“I watched their games against the U.S. and Algeria and I saw good things and bad things,” striker Robert Koren said of England. “They didn’t show the type of football we expect of them. It gives us some hope. But we will see on Wednesday.”

Also to be seen Wednesday are Germany against Ghana (2:30 p.m. at Johanesburg) and Australia vs. Serbia (2:30 p.m. at Nelspruit).

Germany has advanced from the group stage in every World Cup appearance, but a loss to Ghana could sent it home prematurely. After a 4-0 romp past Australia, the Germans were surprised by Serbia 1-0, although the three-time champions played with 10 men for much of the match after high-scoring Miroslav Klose got two yellow cards.

Ghana made the second round for years ago in Germany before losing to Brazil.

“Ghana is possibly Africa’s last chance in the tournament and will be very motivated,” coach Joachim Loew said. “It’s not going to be a piece of cake, but we are confident that we have what it takes to beat Ghana.”

A draw will move Ghana into the round of 16. Same for Serbia if it beats the Socceroos and Germany does not win.

The Serbs are taken nothing for granted against Australia, which held Ghana to a 1-1 draw despite playing with 10 men most of the way. Two key Aussies, Tim Cahill and Craig Moore, are suspended for the game.

“They are a very competitive, honest football team,” Serbia captain Stankovic said. “They are fighters and they showed that by holding Ghana with 10 men. We expect them to come out fighting. They have a good collectiveness. We respect their quality, but we will do our best to beat them.”

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