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The US was about 3 minutes from going home disappointed, but here I am, 2 days later, writing another preview post.  It’s a good thing.

What that injury time goal did for this team is almost unbelievable.  They went from the brink of disappointing elimination to sitting in an very manageable corner of the bracket.

England’s quadrant; a round of 16 matchup with Germany, possibly followed by the winner of Mexico/Argentina.

America’s quadrant; a round of 16 matchup with Ghana, possibly followed by the winner of Uruguay/S Korea.

Not to say it will be easy, any team still alive will have confidence in their ability and belief that they can beat anyone, especially the Americans.

We should also thank Wayne Rooney for hitting the post, another goal from the Brits would have put the US in 2nd (and that other quadrant) based on goal differential.

A miracle of Youtube before we move on….a great video compilation of reactions from around the World:

Thank you Robby Donoho, Purdue – class of 2010.

The one disadvantage to winning the group (for the first time since it was a 16 team tournament in 1930) is that the team got only 2 full days off prior to having to play again.  Ghana is in the same situation though and this is where the American’s fitness advantage could really benefit them.  Both teams will surely be amped up for the game itself but things could really open up around minute 70-75 when the reality of playing two games so close together will set in.

The story of Ghana’s World Cup so far has been their trouble scoring from the run of play.  Their 2 goals have both come from the penalty spot and many consider them lucky to have moved on.  This is an interesting fact but it is a moot point now; if the US takes this lightly (which I doubt) they will be disappointed.

Everything changes in the knockout round; the top quality teams have the pressure associated with not advancing removed, while surprise teams are playing with nothing to lose and a subsequent lack of inhibition.  My guess is that Ghana falls into the 2nd group and will only be further boosted by being the only African team left.  You can be sure there will be a lot of American’s in the stands tomorrow, but they will be greatly outnumbered by the number of African’s supporting Ghana.  They are the home team now, the US the enemy, win or go home.

These teams are slightly familiar with each other.  Ghana beat the US 2-1 in their final group game of 2006 and kept the US out of the 2nd round.  Ghana went on to lose 3-0 to Brazil in the round of 16.  They are a team with a good mix of World Cup experience and youth, their European contingent is strong and used to playing at a high level.  They are fast up front, strong throughout, and will provide an athletic test for the entire American team.

Defense

After making some changes in the Algeria match, it will be interesting to see how Bob Bradley prepares his defense for this one.  Was Onyewu out b/c Bradley just decided that after 180 minutes, he wasn’t fully fit or was he being strategic and trying to save his legs in case they did advance.

Cherundolo and Demerit have their right side locked down.  Bornstein was good enough on the left side to give Bradley confidence if he does go that direction again.  Bocanegra has been exposed by speed when he was out there and seemed to be more in tempo with the game than Onyewu was in the middle.

I think the move here is to keep the lineup the same and go with the crew that was responsible for the first US WC clean sheet since 2002.

Midfield

Michael Bradley is the core of this unit.  The outside is exciting but you need strength and consistency in the middle and this kid has continued to provide it.  He is the only American in the top 100 of the Castrol World Cup rankings, and at number 48 he is above players like Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi.  Let’s not be ridiculous, to claim he is better than either is absurd, but this should give you a good idea for the level he is playing at.  Tomorrow, however, is a new stage for him though and he must maintain the composure he has shown thus far.

BB has been unnaturally inconsistent with his son’s partner though.  Through 3 games there have been 3 different starters in that position.  I thought Edu was pretty good on Wednesday and can provide a goal scoring touch which Ricardo Clark can’t match.  Other than that though, neither has really distinguished himself.  My concern with Clark is that tomorrow will mark 2 weeks since he last played; if he takes time to get himself back up to game speed, it could cause early issues.

Donovan and Dempsey are clearly preferred on the outside of the 4 midfielder formation, the right and left respectively thus far.  They compliment each other very well.  I would like to see BB be a little more free with alternating them if they are having trouble getting good time on the ball.  He has shown a willingness to move Dempsey upfront as well, but only been when he feels the need to switch things up and push for a goal.

Pushing him up would allow for Benny Feilhaber to start.  Possibly a better option than any of the other strikers.  Feilhaber has played very well in some significant time off the bench over the last two group games.  He is a very cerebral player and during the 2nd half against Algeria he seemed to be much more on tone with his teammates than against Slovenia.

My guess is that Bradley comes out with the standard midfield setup he has used for most of the qualifying campaign (Dempsey/Clark/Edu/Donovan).  He was offensive on Wednesday b/c he had no choice, but now I would be surprised if he doesn’t revert to a more traditional setup.  Of course, his offensive approach led to a clean sheet (not a small task for this team) and it would be massively frustrating if he went traditional and allowed another early goal…knock on wood.

Attack

Neither Herculez Gomez or Edson Buddle has really demanded more time with their performances.  Gomez moved around the field very well against Algeria, did well to create space, and make dangerous runs, but at times does seem to be a bit lost out there.

Edson Buddle hasn’t had too much time but has made some good passes.  Most often though, he doesn’t seem like he wants the ball nor is he comfortable when he gets it.

Robbie Findley will probably get the nod after serving his suspension for Yellow Card accumulation.  For like the 25th time, Bradley has shown that he likes his strikers to be complimentary and you can only imagine how much he misses Charlie Davies.  Findley has been fairly positive, but really needs to be a little more patient sometimes and show a willingness to play the ball back and not force things.

Somehow getting Findley a goal would do wonderful things for his confidence.  When he finds himself with a scoring opportunity, he can’t be feeling good about it.  There is a little bit lost right now by starting a striker who is having trouble finding the net, just ask England and Emile Heskey.  Of course, if the US were to get to the point where they need a goal, Bradley has shown a willingness to insert a more natural striker…Gomez/Buddle.

Jozy Altidore is sure to start and has played very well thus far.  He has been a nightmare for defenders, continuously drawing fouls in dangerous areas because they have no other way to stop him.  He has also been very good at not losing his cool or getting impatient.  For his own sake, I hope a goal comes, but either way, he must keep his cool tomorrow.  Another yellow card means he will miss the following game if, god willing, they advance.

Overall

Vegas/UK oddsmakers have the US at about +135 to win, the favorites compared to +200 for Ghana.  Stating the obvious, but we aren’t the only ones who think this is a winnable game.  However, just b/c it is winnable doesn’t mean that by showing up they will win, Ghana will come to play and play for the all of Africa (a massive continent if you haven’t noticed).

Keeping things tidy in the first 20 minutes is imperative.  After that the flow of the game should establish itself.  I expect possession to stay fairly even which should give the US plenty of chances to cause trouble in the box.  Good service from Cherundolo and give-n-gos with Michael Bradley have been the impetus for a lot of chances through the first three games and can really put the pressure on the Black Stars defense.

Despite the stress this team has caused through the group stage, I have complete faith in Bob Bradley and the staff to have them both mentally and physically prepared.  A two day turnaround isn’t easy, especially after such an emotional win, but this is a resilient bunch and if they play their game they have an excellent chance to continue this run.

Et al

My dude, Joe Posnanski with a great blog post on the US team.  I think his description of Donovan’s goal as the most emotional goal in US Soccer history is the most accurate one so far.

This is a little random, so excuse me, but….

We are about 30 minutes from the final group games.

Honduras v Switzerland and Spain v Chile.  3 of the four have a chance to advance so it will be an entertaining set.

I did make a few statements about TV ratings last week.  I was slightly offbase as the records were only in reference to soccer on ESPN.  To clarify…

The US v England game drew 12.9MM viewers on ABC and I expect tomorrow could go over 15MM.  This doesn’t even include the countless people who will be in bars and at friends houses.  Some more in depth viewership numbers:

Richard Sandomir of the NYTimes

ESPN.com focuses on the digital records

Getting back to tomorrow’s game…

Grant Wahl and his things to watch for

US press conference coverage from Goal.com

Jeff Klein details their path to the semi-finals (a little forward thinking for my taste but no one can help it, see above).

Jeff Carlisle from the WWL on Bob, the Defense, and complacency.

Grant Wahl (again) discussing his conversation with Bill Clinton on Soccer and the World Cup.

Is everyone pumped for tomorrow?  What do you think will unfold?

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UPDATE:  Bob Bradley has really made some significant changes for this game.  Edu starts instead of Clark.  Gomez get’s the nod of upfront.  Bocanegra moves to the middle, Cherundolo to the left, and Bornstein comes in at Right Back.  His mindset seems to be, “I know if we lose it probably means my job,  if this all backfires then so what anyway.”

Maybe not that extreme but he is putting a lot of faith in Bornstein along the back.  Please god keep his defending instincts calm and collected today.

VIVA AMERICA!!

Less than 24 hours remain until the Americans decide their World Cup fate against the Algerians.

To state the obvious, the US is focused on avoiding one of those early goals which have plagued them since qualification.  The trend has been especially disconcerting against teams to which they consider themselves superior; Honduras, El Salvador, Slovenia.

Players have said plenty about respecting Algeria but I think this team thinks things will be easy against teams ranked lower than them.  An absurd mindset, these teams might be ranked lower but they have gone to South Africa with a belief that they can win and a cockiness that comes from being professionals.  They fear few teams, definitely not including the US.  When the US starts slowly and thinks that by just playing 90 minutes they will be rewarded with a victory, they leave themselves wide open for one of those awesome kicks to the teeth.  Of course, then they get in gear, start to play with more abandon, and hit their potential.

The positive going into this game vs Algeria is that their back is already against the wall and this is when the often play best.  My hope is that they will channel that 2nd half from the Slovenia game into a full 90 minute performance.  Of course they must maintain discipline at the same time and not get caught up in frantic, unorganized play..

Algeria will provide a quality test.  They surely feel as if they could very well be on 2+ points right now, with a serious shot at advancing.  As it stands, a win tomorrow could still see them advance if things fall in their favor and they score enough.  Even though it’s a long shot, they will come to play and have shown in the previous two matches that they are a team which can’t be overlooked.

Moving on to what we can expect from the US…

Up Front

Robbie Findley must sit out tomorrow’s game after receiving his 2nd yellow card last week.  None of the replacements (Dempsey, Gomez, Buddle) bring the same kind of speed that Findlay offers but all are legitimate options to start up front.

Clint Dempsey has shown an attraction to goal throughout his career, regardless of club or country or position.  Bob Bradley has moved him upfront before when the team is in need of goals, but I think he is more comfortable with his alternate striker options than his alternate wide midfield options.

Herculez Gomez has shown a preternatural ability to score when inserted into the game.  Twice since his callup to this team he has come on as a substitute and scored.  Last Friday his sheer appearance in the game allowed the space for Bradley Jr. to tie the game.  Put simply, the man is involved in goals.  His finishing ability is among the best on this team and he is probably the most complimentary to Altidore.

Edson Buddle is the third option for Bob Bradley and would form a very tall, physical strike force alongside Jozy Altidore.  He has been finishing effectively this season and two forwards of that size and strength would make things very difficult on the Algerian defense which is not as physical as the Slovenians.

I think Bradley will go with Buddle to start but if the US finds a goal hard to come by, Gomez will be introduced somewhere around minute 60.

There is some news now that Altidore missed training today because he was sick, he is expected to play though.

Midfield

The main question mark still seems to be who will partner with Michael Bradley.  I think Ricardo Clark will get the start as he is the most defensively sound and has been BB’s preference.  He provides excellent cover for his partner’s forward runs.

If the US is finding goals difficult to come by, you could see Maurice Edu get a late entrance.  He has shown the ability to pop up and score very important goals at the club level and was oh so close to replicating for his country.

Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden would probably get the start on the flank opposite Donovan if Dempsey were to start as a withdrawn striker.  Holden offers some more pace and width but Feilhaber brings a level of experience which is probably more valuable.  I love Holden but inserting him into a game like this is asking a lot.

Jose Torres probably missed his chance with his uncharacteristically sloppy performance vs Slovenia.  He is young though and should at least be able to learn from this.

Defense

There have been some calls for Oguchi Onyewu to be replaced.  I see where people are coming from as he has been at least somewhat involved in all 3 conceded goals so far.

The first option for Bradley would be to straight swap him for Clarence Goodson.  An interesting prospect as Goodson is excellent on set pieces and the Donovan has been providing great service.  However, being a central defender in a game like this requires a level of calm and composure gained only with experience.  It would take a lot of faith from BB to see this happen.

The other option is to move Bocanegra into the middle where his speed isn’t as big of a liability.  This would mean putting Spector on his unnatural side or starting Jonathan Bornstein.  Spector seems to have been worn out by the long European season while Bornstein has a love for committing bad fouls, and nothing would be worse than giving up a PK tomorrow.

I think Onyewu will once again start, let’s all hope that he has gotten better with each game.

Overall

The US has to like being in a position where they control their own destiny.  A win and they accomplish their first goal, advance to the knockout round.

They must respect Algeria and what they did to get here.  Just being here is a credit to their quality and two good performances have them playing with a level of confidence that will surely make things harder than they think.

The US however is coming off a very positive draw last week and has a lot of confidence in their own ability to score.  They must, however, stay disciplined and use their advantage in fitness and will to build this game in the image they have visualized.

Et al

Apparently a few of the Algerians have packed their bags and brought them to Pretoria so they can leave right after the game.  Obviously the Algerian Federation president is not happy about that.  A good sign for the American’s but they still have to play the game.

John O’Brien (for the NYTimes) gives his own insight into the unique nature of the final group games.

Phil Ball examines to Spain’s in game response to their early loss.

Ben Lyttleton at SI.com on what we have learned up to this point.

An EPLTalk contributor chronicles the English’s penchant for underestimating opponents; can also be applied (at a lesser degree) to the Americans.

Obviously there are some other games tomorow too..

England and Slovenia will be interesting, especially as England needs to win to ensure advancement.  At least if they fail to make the 2nd round they can be assured they will still be overshadowed by the French disaster.  Little consolation though, we all know they will get roundly ripped and push the French out of everyone’s mind if they fail to advance.

The Group D finale in the afternoon is very messy.

Everyone will be looking to win as that is the only way they can hope to advance.  Germany and Ghana specifically know that a win will put them in the round of 16, no questions asked.

Serbia advances with a win or a tie and a Ghana win.

Australia needs a lot of help to advance but must at least get a win.

Essentially, it will be a very interesting afternoon of games.

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Today wrapped up the 2nd set of group games with a trifecta of entertaining games.

The morning started inocently enough with North Korea matching up competitively with Portugal for most of the 1st half.  Portugal did get a very well played goal to put them up 1-0 heading into the break, but North Korea was not lacking in ideas or confidence.  The 2nd half though was an entirely different story, Portugal broke through with 3 goals in 7 minutes and did not look back, finishing the day with 7 total.

Portugal looked like a much more positive team today with a ton of movement throughout the offensive half and excellent team understanding.  Deco was left out after a hip injury sustained in training, although it has also been rumored that he and manager Carlos Quieroz have a slight misunderstanding, something he has denied.  Whether they were better today because of his exclusion or because of greater freedom from Quieroz will probably be seen when they face Brazil on Friday.  Most importantly though, their 7 goal victory means that even if they lose to Brazil, it will take quite a performance from the Ivory Coast to send them home.

North Korea performed admirably for 135 minutes of this tournament before seeming to collapse in the 2nd half today.  Whether they were just playing at an unsustainable level beyond their ability or ran out of gas, they added a unique element to this tournament.  It is especially unfortunate that today’s game was the first one broadcast live to their homeland, the country deserves to get a true picture of how well they were represented on the world stage.  Here’s to hoping they can put together a final quality performance against Ivory Coast on Friday.

The middle game was a contentious affair between Chile and Switzerland.  Chile did very well to play their attacking style in the face of the Swiss defensive mindset while not conceding anything cheap.  Switzerland on the other hand defended admirably with only 10 men for a full hour.  They were also unlucky not to equalize very late on, Eren Derdiyok missed a sitter from about 12 yards out in the 90th min.

The final contest of the day went as expected, except maybe that Spain didn’t score as much as everyone expected.  Fernando Torres started, a positive sign, but couldn’t go the full 90′.  They didn’t seem quite as full of threat as they did against the Swiss but things turned out quite different this time.  The critical game in that group is now Spain v Chile, Friday at 2:30 PM EST, loser plays Brazil in all likelihood.  Unless of course the loser is Spain, then they could very likely be sent home early.

Tomorrow…

begins the final stage of the group stage, always an exciting prospect as that means it’s almost the end of ties.

The first set of games is the finales of Group A; Mexico v Uruguay and France v South Africa.  Everyone is probably aware of the mess that has become of the French national team, but they are not yet eliminated.  They have to beat South Africa by a few goals and hope that either Mexico or Uruguay loses.  If they tie, they both advance, making France’s situation even more dire.

Overall it’s been a terrible week for French Soccer.  Not qualifying for the knockout round is a failure of massive proportions and a shock to the entire world.  The team has been an utter mess on the field as well, playing 180 minutes of World Cup soccer and still searching for their first goal.  Of course, it could all be pushed to the back burner as they still must play the games.

Mexico and Uruguay will surely be very scared to make the mistake that could potentially send them home, and it will probably lead to a very nervous game.  If there is a goal though, things will open up very quickly.

The afternoon matchups will determine the fate of the Group B teams.  Argentina takes on Greece while S Korea tries to secure advancement against Nigeria.  Asking Greece to beat Argentina is a tall task, so the upper hand definitely goes to the Koreans.  It would be a surprise to see them advance but after outplaying Greece, a victory would give them deserved qualification.  Argentina has been a fascinating team to watch thus far and I doubt Mr Maradona would let them take their foot off the gas tomorrow.

Tomorrow brings the US v Algeria preview.  A few bits of that from other sources…

Et al

An interesting point of view on what US v Algeria means for Bob Bradley’s legacy.

American players seem to be ready to attack on Wednesday but they do have a level of respect for Algeria, or so they say.

Jeff Carlisle takes a look at the 3 major lineup issues facing the US and what they can do to stop the slow starts.

Rob Hughes from the NYTimes highlights the European difficulties so far.

France information if you are interested; Domenech’s faultEvra and Domenech’s fault; and now Zidane (who has previously spoke poorly about Domenech) says shame on the team.

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I didn’t watch much today besides Brazil and Ivory Coast.

Paraguay continued the South American dominance this morning and took control of Group F with a 2-0 victory over Slovakia, a score which at least looks convincing.

Brazil continued that theme in the afternoon game with a victory over the Ivory Coast.  In doing so they qualified for the round of 16 and extended the African frustration, 1 win in 12 matches.  Brazil showed flashes of brilliance but did seem to get a little unhinged towards the end, perhaps a reflection of their fiery coach, a trait which could punish them as the games become tenser.

The middle game saw New Zealand squeak out another improbable tie, this time against the defending champion Italians.  Another excellent result for the 78th ranked team in the world.  They now actually hold out hope of advancing but need to up their standard of improbability and somehow beat the Paraguayans.

Tomorrow marks the final day of the 2nd set of group games.  This also means its the final day of 3 games at independent times.  Tuesday starts the final set of games when both group games are played at the same time to prevent any unfair competition.

The early game is probably a must win for Portugal if they harbor hope of advancing.  A loss wouldn’t rule them out completely, nor would a tie obviously, but it would mean their result vs Brazil has to be better than Ivory Coasts v North Korea.

The middle game is an interesting matchup between Switzerland and Chile.  Chile is everyone’s favorite darkhorse still but they will come up against a team in Switzerland which has shown they will be happy to absorb the attacking style and try to steal a goal at some point.

The afternoon pairing will probably see Honduras incur the wrath of La Roja.  Spain has surely been salivating at the thought of getting back onto the field after last week’s disappointing start to their campaign.

Nothing much more for today.  Happy Father’s Day.  Check back tomorrow.

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I am going to try to keep this short because it’s the weekend and there has been a lot written the past few days.

Denmark was able to get 3 big points to put their hopes of qualification on their final group game vs Japan; essentially, winner advances. It was a very frustrating game to watch if you were rooting for Cameroon; Denmark was happy to pack the back and did well to capitalize on the counter attack. I was hoping Cameroon would advance but they just kept getting denied in the most agonizing fashion, and were done in by some poor defending of their own.

The Netherlands secured passage to the 2nd round with a 1-0 victory over Japan. They maintained a massive advantage in possession but still seem to be lacking in creativity around the box.  Being outshot (10-9) while holding 61% of possession screams of a lack of any sort of final ideas.

The middle game today was interesting as Australia played quite well despite going down to 10 men about 1/3 of the way in. They had a few great chances to really even out that group but did give themselves a slight chance at moving on by holding on for the tie. That group matches up with Group C in the round of 16, so you can be sure the American’s will be watching.

Tomorrow starts with the 2nd set of Group F games and could see the group begin to work itself out a bit.  Slovakia and Paraguay will look to get a victory before heading into their final matchup.  Paraguay looked unafraid last week against Italy and a victory tomorrow will put them in excellent position heading into their final group game with New Zealand.

Italy will surely like their chances vs New Zealand; the all whites were very lucky to get out of the first game with a tie after an injury time equalizer.  Despite the criticism going into the tournament and a tentative first half, Italy played a very positive second half.  It will be interesting to see if Marcello Lippi is humble enough to recognize that Antonio Di Natale deserves a full 90 minutes.  Of course, how Federico Marchetti handles his sudden promotion to GK #1 will be interesting, even if it is against New Zealand.

The final game is also the most enticing; Brazil v Ivory Coast.  If Ivory Coast harbors any hope of advancing they are going to have to play to their much publicized potential tomorrow.  You can be sure that Brazil will come to play but the Ivory Coast can do themselves a lot of good, both in the Group and in their confidence, by putting together a positive and competitive performance.  Competing and losing though could be crippling.  Much more will be known about how the group is unfolding after Portugal takes on N Korea on Monday at 7:30.

That is all for today…check out the link below though…

If you want more about the US and the blown call, check out any piece of American sports media….

Et al

Another NYTimes Goal blog post from John O’Brien; he continues to be the most insightful person writing about this tournament. Combines excellent tactical understanding with US specific insights.

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