The big news today for England is that their solid center back and team captain, Rio Ferdinand has injured his knee and will be out of the World Cup. Bear in mind that although, in 2009-10 Ferdinand made about half as many appearances as he did in the previous year, his value as a talisman cannot be overstated. Manager Fabio Capello did not name Ferdinand captain for nothing.
Nevertheless, England is still formidable, especially in this group. Their midfield is very capable, with many options with the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips as potential attacking midfielders with Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick anchoring the defensive midfield side.
With Ferdinand gone, the question remains who will take his place alongside John Terry. I would imagine it might be a platoon of Ledley King and Jamie Carragher. King is quite good when healthy, but he’s rumored to have difficulty playing more than once a week. Carragher has heart, but not a lot of speed. The other option is Matthew Upson, who may not be the most skilled player, but is a bit quicker. I don’t think Ferdinand’s replacement, Michael Dawson, will get much time due to his lack of international experience. Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson will be at left and right back, respectively. Johnson has a bit of Cafu in him, but just a bit.
As for goalkeeper, this is arguably England’s weakest position. I believe that Robert Green might get the nod ahead of David James, based on his performance against Mexico in a recent friendly, which should make some England fans breath a bit easier, but I could be wrong. James has played well for a club team that had a miserable season (Portsmouth), but sometimes is so dodgy, his nickname is calamity. The third option is Joe Hart, but I believe it will be Green or James.
As for the attack, much of it is resting squarely on Wayne Rooney, who without question has matured from the young man who seems to collect red cards. Simply put, he has a nose for the goal and is a skilled finisher, the latter trait being one of the more underrated aspects of the game. So who does Capello pair him with? If it were up to me, I would put him alongside Jermain Defoe, another fine finisher, as opposed to Emile Heskey. Peter Crouch seems more an option for a late substitution.
England’s recent play in the run-up to the cup has been uninspired in my opinion. Granted, they beat Mexico 3-1, but did so on goals from Ledley King and Glen Johnson and a goal from an offside Peter Crouch who controlled the ball with his arm. Moreover, Mexico clearly outran them and would have won, if not for Robert Green’s fine play in goal. I saw most of the game of England against Japan and the bad news for England was that Japan scored all three goals. The good news for England was that two of them went into Japan’s net as own goals. Frank Lampard’s penalty miss was to be polite, uncharacteristic. Still, I believe they should have no problem going through to the second round.
As for the USA,their single greatest strength is in goal. Tim Howard is a world class keeper with impressive skills and agility. The rest of the defense has me a little worried. Oguchi Onyewu is still not 100% nor is Carlos Bocanegra. Jonathan Spector can leave me a bit uneasy, but I admire Jay Demerit’s heart and Jonathan Bornstein, to be charitable, is a work in progress. They have to find a way to keep Rooney in check. If they can do that, they might get a point out of the game.
The midfield is much better, with Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark anchoring the defensive component and Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey driving the offense. Bradley also has some skills on the attack, but both he and Clark have had disciplinary issues, most significantly in last year’s Confederations Cup and they’re going to need to control their tempers. Depending on what formation Manager Bob Bradley uses, there are also good options in Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu.
On the attack, will Landon Donovan be moved into a forward role alongside Jozy Altidore, perhaps as a withdrawn forward and playmaker? That might free up a space for Jose Torres to come in as a holding midfielder. Altidore really needs to finish well. He gets many opportunities, but
all too often comes up short. You can’t do that against a team like
England. We shall see but I still believe that the luck of draw will favor the USA going to the next round.
At the moment I believe that the only thing Algeria has going for it is that they won’t face the US or England in the first game. One of their best defenders, Nadir Belhadj is suspended for the opening game. The goalkeeper who led them to victory over Egypt, Faouzi Chaouchi is suspended for the first two games. Mourad Meghni, a gifted midfielder, nicknamed Le Petit Zidane is out of the WC with a knee injury and Majid Bougherra, a defender who plays for Scottish champion, Glasgow Rangers, is struggling to get fit in time. It really doesn’t look promising.
Mucha has been made about Slovenia beating Russia in the playoff, but precious little has been made of the fact that they did it on the away goal tiebreaker rule, having tied Russia in the aggregate. I have to plead utter ignorance about most of their players with the exceptions of Valter Birsa, who may be their best attacker and is fairly fleet of foot and plays for Auxerre in France and Rene Khrin, who plays for Inter and has subbed for Wesley Sneijder.
I believe that the US and England go through, but it’s vital that the US get a point against England. A tie in this case, won’t be like kissing your sister.
Here are my comments on Group A and Group B
Just a brief note. I love the comments, I’ve found them something I look forward to with every post. I realize that some of the regular readers of this blog don’t like this sport and that’s fine; no one’s expecting you to. Out of courtesy to those of us who do, could you please not come into the comments section and make cheeky smartass comments or say that it’s boring.
Cross posted at Beautiful Horizons
Finally a group that’s easy to call. England and USA, and I actually the US will win it.
I’ve made snide remarks about all the other sports that finds its way to the front page of this blog, but finally we’re talking about a real sport.
I’ve got my schedule printed out. Fr vs Mx is on my birthday. I’m thinking of blowing off a proper party and taking the gang to the bar. Vive la France and Viva México!
Heh. You said “cheeky.”
Frankie Lampard, you’re only as good as your last two penalty misses, which would also be your last two penalty attempts. Perhaps more characteristic than at first glance.
Gordon, The Big Express Engine
Getting a little ahead of ourselves, but which African countries do you see going through? And what are your thoughts on Paraguay? I think Italy is long in the tooth in that group.
Gordon, The Big Express Engine
Another question: Argentina’s group is weak (SK, Greece and Nigeria) so they are going through likely as the top team. And after that, their likely opponents are weak until the semis. Who eliminates them and when???
@mcd410x: Granted, he missed three this past Premiership season, but the last one he missed prior to that was in September 2006. Eighteen of his first 100 Premiership goals were penalties.
@MoeLarryAndJesus: We don’t have Lembit Opik to kick around anymore.
@Gordon, The Big Express Engine: If Drogba stays in the WC, I see Ivory Coast. If not them, perhaps Ghana, although without Michael Essien it will be tough.
@Gordon, The Big Express Engine: One round at a time.
Gordon, The Big Express Engine
@Randinho: sure, but it is fun to speculate. Some teams have a clearly easier path on paper to the semis if they finish first in their group. England for example. Contrast that with Holland, they probably see Brazil in the quarters…
Argentina likely plays the runner up of group A (maybe France or Uruguay or Mexico). All good teams, but Argentina will be favored against all three. Then they maybe get a young German team…
Can a person play football with a broken elbow? If not, Drogba’s out and, since they’re in a group with Brazil and Portugal, I’m afraid the Coast is Toast (I was dying to use that).
Soccer’s a stupid, boring sport for wieners not man enough to play a real sport, like basketball or football.
Of course, I could be pulling your leg since I referee over 150 soccer games each year – adult, La Liga, youth competiitve select, high school, middle school. I am planning a marathon World Cup game watch over the next month, as many in hi-def as possible – good thing June and early July are two of the three least active refereeing months for me (January being the other one).
Thanks for these posts, Randinho. I’m a chick that loves soccer, but admit that I don’t pay nearly the attention to the players and various teams that you do. (Well, mainly I like to play.) But I’m gearing up to be a very active spectator for the World Cup games. I think the US can get a point out of the England match-up. Hell, I’d like there to even be an upset. Anything’s possible, yes?
I don’t follow soccer much, although it’s fun to watch. I’ve only been to a few games; a couple of the San Jose Earthquakes (the old NASL, not the MSL) and one of the prelims of the LA Olympics that was at Stanford Stadium. It was neat to see the Olympic torch there. Didn’t make it to any of the 1994 World Cup games, although I did go down to Los Gatos, where the Brazilians were staying. It’s a party town anyway; with the Brazilians there it was wild.
Thanks for the posts. They give me enough info so that I don’t feel completely out of it.
Cheeky or informed criticism is fine. They were just straight up trolling. The “saw-ker?” shtick stopped being funny in 1994. Dick Young…. still dead.
Needing that kind of validation of their own sports entertainment choices is pathetic. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes some dudes have teeny dicks.
The US is always a slow starter, both in games and in tournaments. My fear (as a Yank) is that we get blown out by England and become terribly demoralized. Because talent-wise we can easily beat Algeria and Slovenia, but not if Rooney pwns us in game 1.
Slovenia wins for best new kit design, so they do have that going for them.
USA steals a draw from England and is second out of the group. Subsequently gets the Germans in the 16s and loses.
I’m glad to see these posts. I feel a little more in touch with the Cup this year than usual.
@Mark S.: Drogba apparently had surgery on his arm/elbow today.
I assume he had rods and/or plates put in, and is thinking of taking shots for pain to try to give it a go, but won’t know for sure for a day or two.
Pretty sure the rules say he can’t wear a cast, don’t know how thick any sort of rubber/padded “sleeve” can be, but considering he’s 32, I’m sure he is going to do everything possible to play. As long as he can break that instinct to put his arm out when falling, could work.
What I will be looking forward to is whether the presence of Rooney (and the coaching by Capello) can instill some sourly missing character in the England team during a big tournament. Considering the so-called ‘golden generation’ England could assemble over the last decade, they underachieved on each big occasion during those ten years.
Never more so than during the 2002 WC when they had a really awesome defense. But in the knock-out stage against Brazil, when England went up by a goal before halftime, the England team that came out of the locker room and played the second half was an utter failure because everybody just went into hiding and nobody was prepared to step up and take responsibility.
I sort of think that might have been a bit different if their frontman on that ocassion would have been somebody like Rooney instead of Michael Owen. To really get a measure of how much England failed in 2002, you have to contrast them to the German team, which essentially had one world class player in their goalie Oliver Kahn but made it to the final on the back of the typical German strength of never giving up.
And in terms of taking responsibility, there was this quite illustrative example of a budding Michael Ballack committing a foul in the semifinal against Sout Korea to kill a counter attack of the Koreans that represented a great chance for them to score the equalizer. Ballack already had a yellow card from a previous game and another one was going to keep him out of the final if Germany were to proceed. He never hesitated to do what needed to be done, collected his second yellow card and missed the final.
@PanAmerican: I’ve hated Dick Young since Tom Seaver was traded.
Ledley King is a world class defender, and Michael Dawson (although not capped) has had a fantastic season. If Capello was playing on form, he would start King and Dawson the first game. However, John Terry will probably start alongside Carragher, and will have their hands full with the speedy US attack. (Terry is notorious for pulling on shirts once they get past him.) I do think that it’ll be England and US, but hope the US team isn’t thinking like that. We need them hungry.
Loving these posts, Randinho!
@Stroszek: ME TOO! Keep ’em coming please, all the way through postmortem analysis of the final championship game (!) Surely in addition to play/player analysis, there will be some interesting referee decisions/non-decisions to analyze as well.
Don’t frak with the Slovenes.
Yeah, guys, save your wisecracks for posts about environmental devastation or political brinksmanship. This is serious.
You forgot Cherundolo in defense, he seems to be the clear starter for the US over Spector. Watching US-Australia right now, overall we look solid although the defense is shaky at times. I’m surprised that Edu is not playing over Clark. I guess Clarks experience with the national team gives him the edge with Bradley. I am sure that Torres will see some time, maybe if England goes ahead and the US needs a late goal. He was very impressive against Turkey.
This is one of the best offensive threatening teams the US has fielded, if not the best. With the confidence that Donovan and Dempsey have gained in the Premier League, I feel as good as I could about our chances against England. A victory is unlikely but would not be the shock that it would be treated as.
Miss Kitka's Comrade Wayne
But I like Slovenia’s Charlie Brown jerseys. Does that mean they finish last?
They just find their level. They’re in the second tier of Euro sides like France, Netherlands and Spain. Supporters always overrate these teams chances at winning the tourney, none more so than Eng-ger-land.
The US just clocked the Aussies in a warm up match. Two from Buddle and one from Herculez.
Bob Bradley’s forward picks. Hopelessly deluded or soccer visionary?
Love these posts, Randinho!!
Working on my fantasy lineup right now. Any chance you would post your team, and I could just copy it? ;-)
@PanAmerican: I might add that if you really want to get a good understanding of England’s unfulfilled potential, I recommend Soccernomics by Simon Kuiper and Stefan Syzmanski. It ought to be required reading for all fans and heads of national football associations.
I just saw the US-Australia game and I believe that Edson Buddle just earned a spot as Altidore’s strike partner. Robbie Findlay had lots of chances, but his poor finishing hurt him.
Thanks to all for the kind words.
Sorry I missed your post last night. Went to bed too early I guess. I love your posts and will really enjoy them throughout the World Cup.
My English family members are very excited about the England-USA game. There will be rivalry for sure! Haven’t talked to anyone yet about Ferdinand’s injury and inability to play, but I’m sure they’re all very disappointed.
I really hate it when someone gets injured right before the Cup. It seems so unfair. I always want the very best teams from all countries to be able to play because that way you know for sure which team is the best. If some of the best players are out with injuries you’re just left with “what if’s.”
J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford
Did you just say that “skilled finishing” is one of the more underrated aspects of the game?
@PanAmerican: Is this the “France” that made it to the 2006 finals and “Spain” that won Euro2008?
@JenJen: Never ;-)
@J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford: No, just finishing.
I think Torres is a wildcard for the US – he has an “I want the ball” vibe and an ability to make accurate passes that’s refreshing, compared to some of the other lead-foots in the US middle and backline.
It’s okay. I like boring sports.
Well, there is also the small matter of a certain obvious handball that wasn’t called against Torsten Frings. That helped Germany a bit.
Get back to me when one of those sides wins the World Cup with out home cooking.
All the pressure is on England. It would be nice to get a point (or three), but it’s not required to get through. Rooney is a load and is one of the top finishers in the tournament. Watching the US Australia match I felt a little uncomfortable watching the back line deal with crosses. Looks like the US will have to score goals because they look to let some in. Buddle can’t stop scoring and Donavon and Dempsy should power the attack. It will be a fun ride. I pick Holland. Robben can’t be stopped.
So many of the Americans play or have played in the Premiership that one thing we shouldn’t have to worry about is our guys being intimidated. The longer we can keep the match scoreless, the more the pressure builds on England, and the better our chances of benefiting from an English brain-cramp and stealing a result.
It will be Altidore-Findley or Buddle-Findley, depending on Jozy’s ankle.
Bob likes a speed guy, even one who isn’t finishing. Robbie set up Buddle’s first, played good defense all game, and his speed kept Australia from cheating too far forward.
Except by injury.
@J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford: RIght? Just like being tall is underrated in basketball…
Ferdinand didn’t get named captain for nothing? He got named captain because John Terry is a degenerate. Or actually, considering the crap that Ferdinand has been involved with, he is less of a degenerate than Terry. And everyone just finds Gerrard annoying.
Also too, Gerrard and Lampard have never played well together. Ever. Barry is going to be holding, Lampard will be attacking, and Gerrard will likely get sent out to the left.
One more thing, Bradley is an awful coach. Just ask how Hodgson is able to get so much out of Dempsey for Fulham, but he never performs as well for the USA? It’s because he gets shafted to a wing.
I think there is no chance Bradley will play Donovan up front — not with 4 out and out forwards on the roster and Dempsey.
Dempsey probably should play forward since he plays almost no defense and the US is weak at fullback, so leaving a fullback with no support, especially against teams with fast wing players (say for instance Aaron Lennon) is a recipe for disaster.
Howard has many good points at keeper, but he is not a great defensive organizer and is susceptible to long shots.
I would recommend all Simon Kuper’s books, especially Ajax, the Dutch and the War
Some immigrant guy
England will come through, between USA and Slovenia for the other place but USA looking good at the moment.
Don’t much agree on some of the team selection for England – David James will start in goal; if England do start with two up front, it will probably be Crouch with Rooney. The thinking in England is that it quite likely they will play Rooney up front on his own (he played plenty for ManU in that formation and really likes it too apparently).
So for England’s line up against the USA, I would venture: James, Johnson, King, Terry, Cole, Barry/Carrick, Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon, Cole/Crouch, Rooney
If fit, Barry will play. Cole or Crouch depends on if they play 1 or 2 up front.
Algeria is gonna beat Slovenia and America. Algeria will reach Round 2, not the U.S.