United States v England.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated fixture in the history of US Soccer. Almost everyone in the United States has an opinion on this game and ESPN expect record ratings for the game. The US public have good reason to be excited by the prospect of the fixture against England. Bob Bradley, while often criticised by some elements of USMNT’s fans, has silently gone about building upon the work of predecessor Bruce Arena and created the best American football team ever.
England enter the World Cup with renewed optimism. They breezed through qualification, are helmed by Fabio Capello and boast three of the best players in the world in the form of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. The harrowing nature of the injury suffered by captain Rio Ferdinand has brought Ledley King into the starting XI. While King and Terry are undoubtedly very talented central defenders, they have been prone to errors this past season. They will need to be fully focused on the task of dealing with a United States’ line of forwards which comes bearing many speedy individuals.
The goalkeeper question has dogged Fabio Capello in the weeks leading up to the kick-off. With each of Joe Hart, David James and incumbent Robert Green rumoured to be ahead in the pecking order at some stage. It is strange for Capello to be uncertain, perhaps he is not and that the mystery is just created in the media. In any case, this position is one where the United States holds a significant advantage. The unheralded Tim Howard has become one of the most athletic and reliable goalkeepers in the Premier League and his understudies Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Guzan are both capable replacements.
For all of the reassurance brought by Howard, the United States defence will be severely tested by England’s attacking quartet. If Capello does as expected and names Heskey, Lennon, Gerrard and Rooney then the United States will need to retain discipline and patience but also be ruthless when necessary. The questionable temperament of Wayne Rooney when he plays for England has come under scrutiny since the friendly against the Platinum Stars, with many suggesting that the United States’ players should attempt to rile the 24 year old Manchester United star. Oguchi Onyewu was unconvincing in his performance against Australia and is yet to complete a full ninety minutes since sustaining an injury at AC Milan nine months ago. Onyewu is a dominating presence and if he is fully fit, as Bradley assures us, then the US may have reason to believe that they can keep England’s attacking options in check.
Fabio Capello’s outburst against intrusive photographers recently was seen by some as a sign that the pressures of being an England coach at a World Cup was finally taking its toll. While I do not agree that Fabio Capello has lost his trademark composure, I do believe that this England side is under pressure to perform against the US. The Three Lions were handed a favourable draw in Group C and are expected to progress with maximum points. Failure to do so could lead to a troublesome Round of 16 fixture against their traditional nemesis Germany and more potential horrors awaiting further into the knockout stages. If England are to reach the World Cup Final for the first time since their triumph in 1966 it is imperative that they beat the United States and top Group C.
USMNT will have other ideas. For so long they have been regarded as something of an oddity, an overachieving side from a nation that is not in touch with the game of football. Now, boosted by a legion of supporters unfathomable even four years ago, the United States will attempt to set about a run into the deeper stages of the tournament.
There is much riding on this game for both sides, failure for either side may have damaging ramifications for their World Cup ambitions.