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Group C – Can the US live up to the hype? Can England?

Group C

With England installed as the clear-cut favorite, the rest will be left to fight for the upset, and likely, second place.  The United States have been given a favorable draw and will look to Slovenia and Algeria as teams they should beat, but both countries have offensive spark plugs that do not need many chances to capitalize.

Algeria

Striker – Karim Matmour

A teammate of United States’ Michael Bradley with Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, Matmour is one of 17 Algerian players to be born in France.  Algeria will rely on the pacy winger to inject some speed and style into their game alongside Karim Ziani.  Having finished fourth in this years African Cup of Nations, behind champions Egypt, Algeria went on to best their rivals to earn their spot in the World Cup Finals.

Karim Ziani

Midfield – Karim Ziani

A greedy goal-scoring midfielder, Ziani played in every World Cup qualifier and is the creator for the Algerian offense.  Always looking to attack an opposition’s defense, Ziani will, at times, be susceptible to taking an extra touch and losing possession, but also possesses the ability to dissect any defense, either with the ball at his feet, or with seeking through balls.  Algeria will expect to be under a lot of pressure during this tournament and Ziani will need to be sharp on the counterattack if Algeria are to claim victories.

Defense – Nadir Belhadj

At left back for Algeria, Belhadj will work hard to push the game forward, making dangerous overlapping runs for his wingers.  For Portsmouth, he has attacked the space in front of him with aplomb but especially playing in the pressure of the World Cup, he must remember not to shirk his defensive responsibilities.  He, like Ziani and Matmour have the lust for goals that can often lead to defenders getting caught out and the space behind them exposed.  All three teams Algeria face operate well on the counterattack and Belhadj will need to clean up the defensive third before making too many forays forward.

England

Midfield – Shaun Wright-Phillips

Injuries to the English midfield have seen the plans of Fabio Capello thrown into disarray.  With Gareth Barry sidelined for the US game and with the potential that James Milner will join him in the stands, Capello looks set to open with Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole patrolling the wings for England.  Wright-Phillips, a Manchester City player, has blistering pace and has outdueled fellow speedsters Theo Walcott (left out of the team) and Aaron Lennon (himself recovering from injury) for a place in the starting 11.  The knock on Wright-Phillips is his size, and if he does not show that he can keep possession and provide good service, look for him to be the first player pulled.

Joe Cole

Midfield – Joe Cole

Between his frequent injuries and playing for Chelsea, Joe Cole has seen limited minutes over the past two seasons.  That does not speak anything of his quality as a player, however.  Recently released from Chelsea, every major club in England has already been linked to a move for the England winger and the World Cup will be an excellent opportunity for him to display his wares.  Despite being an excellent technical player, concerns exist about Cole’s defensive work rate and he will have to put in consistent hard working starts for England if he is to retain his place.

Defense – Ledley King

A true anomaly for Tottenham Hotspur, King operates on the field without the necessary cartilage in either knee.  Despite only being able to train once a week and rarely being able to play in more than one match over a week, King has continued to show the smarts and skill to get him into England’s starting lineup.  Whether he will be able to play every match remains a mystery, but playing along side the loud-mouthed, bellicose John Terry, King’s calm, cool brand of defending is a great asset for England.  Sadly, he will never reach his full potential due to his injury history but for England to progress deep into the tournament Ledley King will have a big part to play.

Slovenia

Forward – Milijove Novakovic

When Slovenia pulls ten men behind the ball (and they will), Novakovic will be the lone man up top.  Having broken into the upper echelons of European soccer with Cologne over the past two seasons, Slovenia’s number 11 will have an enormous part to play this summer.  At 6’-3’, his ability to hold up the ball and distribute on the counterattack will be critical as Slovenia will likely venture out of their defensive bunker on rare opportunities.  On these chances, Novakovic has shown a good nose for goal and will be called on to bury each and every opportunity if Slovenia have any chance of advancement.

Robert Koren

Midfield – Robert Koren

Slovenia’s outspoken captain preaches self-belief and a team first attitude that will be essential if his side are to record favorable results in Group C.  A dynamic playmaker himself, Koren will leave the rough stuff to his teammates as he looks to orchestrate the possession and counterattacking chances on which they will thrive.  Coming off a great season with West Bromwich Albion, one that earned them promotion to the Premiership, Koren will be Slovenia’s heart.  They will look to his skill, leadership and energy as they try to earn a shock berth to the second round.

Midfield – Valter Birsa

A young player ready to jump into the limelight, Birsa most recently performed exceptionally in help Auxerre to third place in France’s Ligue 1, earning them a place in Champions League qualifying.  In a sport all to often marred by poor sportsmanship, Birsa made positive headlines in a French league match when he appealed to the referee not to send off Marseille’s Bakari Kone after the pair had collided.

United States

Striker – Robbie Findley

When Charlie Davies suffered devastating injuries following a car wreck, Findley looked the clear choice to substitute for his immense pace.  But the Real Salt Lake forward made a mess of his opportunities with the national team and looked on the verge of missing the cut altogether.  Bradley has stuck with the striker how ever and in recent outings Findley has looked dangerous running off of both Jozy Altidore and Edson Buddle.  His finishing touches are still awful, but if he can stretch defenses and provide services to the likes of Altidore, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, he could yet become one of the massive stories for this US team.

Jose Francisco Torres

Midfield – Jose Francisco Torres

The diminutive Pachuca midfielder was long considered an outsider for this US roster, but continued assured performances in the heart of the Mexican club’s midfield finally earned Torres his chance.  And he is taking it with both hands.  With coach Bob Bradley seemingly too comfortable with playing two defensive center midfielders, Torres has forced his coach to reconsider that strategy as he has linked well with holding midfielder Michael Bradley, providing the US with unusually high amounts of ball possession.  His influence is such that the team plays a different style when he is over the ball, versus other more defensive options, Frankfurt’s Ricardo Clark and Rangers’ Maurice Edu.

Defense – Clarence Goodson

With Oguchi Onyewu’s complete recovery from a torn patella tendon still in question, Clarence Goodson looks likely to play some real minutes for the United States.  Having risen from a bubble player to a consistent starter, Goodson has made the most of the opportunity handed to him based on injuries and dips in forms for fellow Americans.  Jonathan Spector’s recent struggles have been as well documented as they have been surprising and this development has forced Bob Bradley to deploy captain Carlos Bocanegra at the troublesome left back spot.  This leaves the in-form Goodson primed to step in should Onyewu struggle.  Goodson currently plays his club ball for IK Start in Norway and convincing minutes this summer could go a long way to landing him a contract with a much more competitive club.

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