Football Station


England – Slovenia Preview

All will be left on the line tomorrow as every team in Group C battles for a place in the knockout round in South Africa.  With England taking on Slovenia and the United States playing Algeria in simultaneous games, there could well be fireworks by the games’ end.

England – Slovenia

Prior to the tournament England were runaway favorites to stomp their group.  With a massive abundance of talent, a superb manager and a nearly spotless qualifying run, the Three Lions were expected to do big things in Britain (that said, when aren’t they expected to do big things in Britain).  However, a drab team lacking ideas, an outburst from a former captain and a couple of suspensions are surely weighing heavily on the mind of every player and personnel in the England camp.

Two English fans sit dejected after the United States game. Irony? They're drinking American beer.

It was bad enough that they played their two games with little to no drive, and were desperately short of attacking menace, but now John Terry came out and declared that the team would sit down with the Italian and tell him, no holds barred, what they wanted the team to be…seriously?  The team is not a democracy.  The manager has the final say and holds the supreme authority, a point Capello was adamant to make.  John Terry’s “very, very big mistake” was almost an ominous statement from the manager, as he cooly told the press that there would be repercussions for what was said.  Terry has since apologized, and Capello must be satisfied…but that is hardly the end of his problems.

Terry was allegedly going to call for the inclusion of Joe Cole at said meeting, before none of his team mates backed him up.  But unfortunately for Capello, Terry may be right.  Joe Cole possesses great technical skill and contains the immeasurable quality of the “X” factor.  Joe Cole can make plays that other players simply cannot make.  He can beat a man (something seriously lacking right now for the Three Lions), he is creative and he can find a killer pass.  Question is: Will Capello swallow his pride and include J. Cole?  Probably not…

As they have demonstrated, the Slovenians are not to be taken lightly.  They have all the necessary attributes to make England’s last game a nightmare, should the Brits not come with their “A” game.  Milivoje Novakovic is a striker who can cause problems, especially for the rag-tag center back pairing that will likely be Matty Upson and John Terry.  Terry is probably mentally awry and Upson hasn’t been asked to perform on such a big stage.

Valter Birsa celebrates his stunning opener against the Yanks.

Robert Koren and Valter Birsa will make up the bulk of midfield, and, like Novakovic, won’t be push overs.  On paper, England’s midfield should wipe the floor with them, but if recent results have told us anything, England’s form tomorrow is in a grab bag.  Koren likes to pull the strings in midfield and Birsa is capable of changing the game if the stars align.

Most unfortunately for England, if they keep up their lackluster attacking play, they won’t find a way through the tough Slovenian defense.  Anchored by veteran keeper Samir Handanovic, the Slovenians play a water tight defense that the Americans were fortunate to make headway on.  The Britsh will need to fire on all cylinders to break into the game, however, if they can manage to score first, the Three Lion’s attitude will change entirely.  If they concede first…oh dear.

Prediction – The English may finally manage to squeeze a few goals out, but the back line will be suspect, as will David James. Wayne Rooney’s form will be paramount to their success.  If they can advance out of the group, a new English side will be seen.

England 1 – 1  Slovenia

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Daylight Robbery

The United States were denied a game winning goal in the 87th minute by Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu, but was called back to due to offsides…maybe.  Nobody is entirely sure what the call was.  Edu was clearly onsides and, if anything, Michael Bradley was being held down in the box for what should have been a penalty.

However, life isn’t fair, and quite often, neither is football.  Koman Coulibaly in his first officiation of a World Cup game put in a less than admirable display as he frequently missed calls and came up with bizarre bookings for both sides.

Jose Torres replaced Ricardo Clark in midfield after the latter failed to impress in any sense during the England game.  Robbie Findley continued to start alongside Altidore for the second time in as many games.

In one of the most predictable actions, the United States allowed another early goal as Valter Birsa hit a cracker from 25 yards out that left Tim Howard rooted to the spot as it found the corner of the net.  The United States defense left Birsa with far too much space and he let fly with a perfect strike to put the Slovenians in front.

The United States was out of sync for much of the half and only started to find rhythm in the 40th minute or so when Clint Dempsey played a teasing ball into the area and Miso Brecko made a vital interception with Landon Donovan lurking.

It was short lived however as the Slovenians broke on a counter attack and Novakovic slide the ball expertly to Zlatan Ljubijankic who did well to sneak past the offside trap and slip the ball under the onrushing Tim Howard to leave the Americans in a very bad place.

Goal scorer Landon Donovan celebrates with Clint Dempsey.

After the half, Bob Bradley replaced Jose Torres with Maurice Edu and Robbie Findley with Benny Feilhaber.  Edu proved to be a great change, as the Rangers midfielder snuffed out attacks and played well for his time on the pitch.  Feilhaber was decent.  He didn’t play badly but failed to make a serious impression on the game.

The Yanks started the half ideally as Landon Donovan, now in a more advanced position, attacked the goal and ripped a shot near post past Samir Handanovic.  Then the game really begun.

The United States began continually pushing into the Slovenian half, which was dangerous considering how lethal the latter looked on the counter attack.  Bradley made his last sub in the 80th minute by bringing on supersub Herculez Gomez for Oguchi Onyewu.  This meant the States moved to a 3-4-3 and really began to attack.

This type of pressure paid dividends as the coach’s son, Michael Bradley slotted after being played in by Jozy Altidore.  Cherundolo looked long into the box and Altidore rose highest to nod the ball into the path of Bradley who almost put the ball over the goal as he smashed the ball into the net.

After storming back into the game, the Yanks pushed hard, but were constantly kept in check with the breaking Slovenians who constantly found space going forward with only 3 Americans in the back line.

Maurice Edu cannot believe his goal was disallowed.

It was all for nought however, as in the 86th minute, Jozy Altidore won a freekick on the edge of the box after being bundled over.  Landon Donovan swung it in and Maurice Edu finished with aplomb from six yards out.  The goal was quickly called for something, most probably offsides, but replays show that this was clearly not the case.  Furthermore, replays suggest a penalty could have been given for how Bradley and others too were handled in the box during the kick.

The match dragged out with no more drama, but the biggest question will be asked of referee Koman Coulibaly, who was fairly bizarre all game.  Will he face any repercussions?  Time will tell.

The result means that should England beat Algeria today, the United States MUST win against Algeria on Wednesday and hope for a winner from England-Slovenia.  If they draw, it will come down to goal difference and become a matter of how badly the United States could beat Algeria.



American Revolution Revisted – Group C

Group C –

England

United States

Algeria

Slovenia

In Group C, many pundits will be speculating that it should the final standings for the group will look just as they were drawn.  However, injuries, histories, and inspirational performances could see some shock upsets and turn this group on its head.  It is by no means a sure thing, however, this group could be quietly surprising.

Slovenia – The Slovenians qualification campaign should be considered a success in and of itself, however, as they find

Robert Koren will give the Slovenian faithful hope...if there is any to be had.

themselves underdogs in a more experienced group, they will need to rely on the talents of Robert Koren, Miso Brecko and Milivoje Novakovic to carry them through.  Slovenia turned the tables on what was looking bound to be a lackluster qualifying campaign when they beat Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland to take second place which qualified them for the two leg play off against Russia.  A playoff that they surprisingly won and Slovenia became a topic of discussion for football fans everywhere.  One of the biggest bonuses for the Slovenians is their spirit under Matjaz Kek.  The manager has instilled a fighting spirit in his side second to none and could be essential to their success (if any).

Algeria – Similar to Slovenia, Algeria were never given much of a chance to make it to South Africa, yet, they could still have a word in Group C.  After playing in one of the more passionate games football has seen in some time, Algeria ousted Egypt to make it to the World Cup Finals.  Yazid Mansouri, Nadir Belhadj and Madjid Bougherra will be looking to add experience and skill to the starting line up.  If they have more passionate displays like the one against Egypt in them, then they may have a chance at escaping Group C.  Rafik Saïfi has been their go-to in the past, however his age will probably be a factor as they turn their attention towards Siena hitman Abdelkader Ghezzal to bag a couple goals as well.  However, against the stout defense of England that could be a tall order.  That said, the injury hit defense of the United States could prove prime real estate for a striker looking to sneak in and nick a few goals.

United States – The Yanks won’t feel aggrieved with their draw as second place should be fully within their grasp.  Injuries will

The Haitian-American hitman will relish the chance to show off his skills.

hinder their chances as Charlie Davies didn’t even make the squad, and key defensive figures Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit are all question marks over fitness.  The United States will bank on veterans Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (only 20 years old) and Tim Howard.  All have European experience and plenty of international experience between them.  England will obviously be the biggest challenge for the Yanks, but, possibly to their benefit, they will play England first and get them out of the way.  Their front line is now barren after the omission of Charlie Davies and will rest heavily on the shoulders of Jozy Altidore.  Altidore has notched some impressive goals against the likes of opponents such as Spain and has demonstrated his scoring ability in qualifying.  Scoring veteran Dempsey may be moved up alongside Altidore with Holden playing out right, but the question remains…who will replace Dempsey and Altidore when they get tired?

England – The Three Lions will finally have a chance at making a legitimate run in South Africa.  They are loaded in all areas of the pitch and could see themselves in the semifinals or (hold your breath) the final.  Their biggest problem in South Africa should be the striking department.  That is, who partners Wayne Rooney?  They have plenty of able candidates but which will actually perform at the Cup?  With players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner and Jermain Defoe, it’s hard to imagine them not making a good run out of their squad.  Capello has instilled a winning attitude absent the England camp for years after bad stints in management.  All things considered, they should advance out of their group, but their biggest competition in the group should be the Yanks.  Unfortunately for England, that game comes first and there is a small possibility of an upset as the Lions won’t have much of an idea of how much firepower Bob Bradley’s men are packing.  That said, England will be advancing, one way or another.

Prediction – Just like they were drawn…

1. England

2. United States

3. Algeria

4. Slovenia