US a Winner, Brazil a Loser in World Cup Draw

London, United Kingdom (PressExposure) December 05, 2009 -- The United States got a favorable draw Friday for the 2010 World Cup against England, Slovenia and Algeria and will be expected to reach the second round of soccer’s world championship.

Anything less would be considered a failure at the 32-team tournament, to be held in South Africa from June 11 to July 11, although injury has left the Americans uncertain at forward and on defense.

“Any time now that we don’t advance, we’re going to be disappointed,” midfielder Landon Donovan said on a conference call.

The United States drew a top seed in England, the 1966 World Cup champion, but avoided a second European power and a top African team. Bob Bradley, the American coach, called the draw fair and said, “It gives us an opportunity to find a way to advance.”

Defender Carlos Bocanegra was more emphatic, saying, “We need to get out of our group and we need to make some noise.”

Two nations from each of the eight four-team groups will advance to the knockout round. But the United States may need at least a point from the England game to avoid a relatively early exit. If the Americans finish second in their group, their opponent in the round of 16 will probably be Germany, a three-time world champion.

At least the Americans avoided the Group of Death, a forbidding assemblage that includes Brazil, a five-time World Cup champion; the Ivory Coast, considered the first African contender; and Portugal, which finished fourth at the 2006 World Cup.

The United States will open play against England on June 12 in Rustenberg, northwest of Johannesburg. The Americans are 2-7 all time against the English but achieved perhaps their greatest World Cup triumph with a stunning 1-0 win at the 1950 World Cup. It was the teams’ only meeting in the World Cup. That was more than half a century ago, but the current United States players seemed more excited than unnerved by the chance to play England.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Clint Dempsey, forward Jozy Altidore and defender Jonathan Spector play in the English Premier League and are accustomed to the physical, fast-paced style there. The Americans lack the technical skill of the English players but think they can match up with fitness, unity and insistence.

The United States has gained assurance from defeating top-ranked Spain at the Confederations Cup in South Africa last June and taking a two-goal lead over Brazil before losing, 3-2, in the championship game.

“They’re physical and they’re big and they’re used to playing the game at a very high pace,” Donovan said of English stars like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. “That kind of game favors them. The good thing is, we have a lot of guys playing in Europe now who have played in big games. We can match that. Are we as talented? Probably not, but on a given day, we feel we have a chance to beat them.”

Donovan also said it was “pretty incredible” that he might face David Beckham, his teammate with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

In the teams’ most recent meeting, England won, 2-0, in a friendly last year in London.

“I think the next game will be different,” Fabio Capello, the England manager, told ESPN. “I think it will be not an easy game. Another thing important — the U.S.A. will have more time to prepare for the World Cup. It’s very important the first game. The U.S.A. knows, we know, if you win the first game, it’s easier to play the other games.”

World Cup history suggests that a team losing its opening match struggles to reach the knockout phase. And the United States has often played poorly in openers, getting pounded by Czechoslovakia 5-1, in 1990; by Germany, 2-0, in 1998; and by the Czech Republic, 3-0, in 2006.

Even with a loss to England, the Americans should advance. Still, Slovenia and Algeria — which the Americans have never faced — are not considered pushovers. Slovenia defeated Russia in a playoff to reach the World Cup, and Algeria defeated the African power Egypt.

The Americans will meet Slovenia on June 18 in Johannesburg and Algeria on June 23 in Pretoria. One thing to note: The Americans are 1-9-2 against European teams in the World Cup since 1990. But they are also familiar with these stadiums and the altitude, having played there in the Confederations Cup.

Even though Friday’s draw was favorable for the Americans, the team has endured some significant setbacks since the Confederations Cup.

Forward Charlie Davies is said to be making an encouraging recovery from a broken leg, a broken elbow and facial fractures from a car wreck, but he remains unlikely to play in South Africa. The Americans would miss his threatening speed.

Oguchi Onyewu is out an expected four more months after surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee. He gives the United States an imposing defensive anchor, but his availability for the World Cup remains unknown. His absence could prove troubling, especially against England and its strength on set pieces.

There is more encouraging news about center back Jay DeMerit, who may rejoin his English club, Watford, this weekend after a corneal transplant. The midfielder Jermaine Jones, yet to play for the United States, has returned to training with his German club, Schalke 04, but he has been slow to heal from a hairline fracture in his left shin. His World Cup participation is uncertain.

Dempsey seems likely to move upfront in Davies’s absence, but he remains inconsistent with the national team, imposing in one match and frequently uninvolved in the next.

Perhaps the speed of Robbie Findley of Real Salt Lake will make him a candidate to replace Davies. Or maybe Eddie Johnson will re-emerge with fulfilled promise.

Edgar Castillo remains a possibility at left back, although he played quietly in his debut in midfield in a recent exhibition loss to Denmark.

An unavoidable factor in South Africa will be the altitude in some cities. Johannesburg is more than a mile high at 5,750 feet (1,753 meters), while Pretoria is about 4,400 feet (1,341 meters). Many of the American strengths — running hard, counterattacking, playing physically — may be compromised in thinner air.

Thus, greater ball possession may be necessary for success at the World Cup. The American players were breathing heavily as they blew a 2-0 lead to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final in Johannesburg.

“I think we ran out of gas, more than anything,” Bocanegra said after the game.

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Press Release Submitted On: December 05, 2009 at 12:46 am
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