Friday, June 11, 2010

U.S.A. ready for South Africa

Today, the World Cup will begin in Johannesburg, South Africa, when the host South Africa national soccer team takes on Mexico.

For U.S. and England fans, the big opener of course is Saturday when the two play in Rustenburg at 1:30 p.m. (ABC). This game could in a way tell us a lot about both sides' chance of advancing in this tournament, the first to be held in Africa.

The good news is both are in a reasonably easy Group C with Slovenia and Algeria, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stage. Algeria is considered the weaker of some of the African teams, having managed to get past Egypt during qualifying, while Slovenia typically has not made much noise.

For the U.S., it's going to come down to overcoming injuries. Jozy Altidore hurts his ankle last week during the tune-ups, and while he is expected to play Saturday, the ankle will be tender. Plus, the U.S. also will have to be more consistent than it has been, with highs (a 3-1 win over Australia in the last exhibition last Saturday) and lows (a 4-2 beating on May 26 in East Hartford, Conn., at the hands of the Czech Republic, who didn't even qualify for the tournament this year in a tough European group).

What the U.S. team does after the group stage remains to be seen. It likely will draw someone like Germany or Ghana, against whom it will be the underdog. If it puts up a good showing against England tomorrow, with England expected by some like Sports Illustrated to make it to the final against Spain, the favorites to win it all, then the U.S. could go deep into this tournament like it did in 2002 in South Korea and Japan.

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