Groups C and D finish up Wednesday, and the possibility (albeit slim) exists that we could see both England and Germany exit the tournament. Given the Euro-phobic nature of this year’s WC, both teams should watch their backs.
Group C (10 AM ET)
Slovenia v. England
We’re not quite sure what to say about England’s last match, when they were pretty much unable to string together 3 consecutive passes against Algeria. More than that, the team seemed tired and slow, built around an all-too-rickety center of the old John Terry and Jamie Carragher at center back, the still-injured Gareth Barry at CDM, and the apparently disinterested Frank Lampard at CAM. They’re better than this, surely, but are running out of chances to prove it. Coach Fabio Capello faces a tough decision: to stick with the players and formation that got him here, or blow it up, bench Lampard, move Steven Gerrard to CAM, and get someone like Joe Cole in as an additional attacking option.
Given Slovenia’s defensive organization (and the fact that they only need a draw to advance), we’d take option B. Slovenia’s defense needs to be either unlocked (as the USA was unable to do in the first half of their game) or just overwhelmed (as the USA did in the second half). But they won’t give goals away. Slovenia’s relative lack of pace up front will help England, though, as Slovenia will be forced to try to beat tall, skilled, physical England center backs with tall, physical, but unskilled forwards.
Prediction: England 0-0 Slovenia. This is one of those games that will turn completely on whether an early goal comes. If England break out, they could hit 4 or so.
USA v. Algeria
The USA did it again in their last match, coming out tentative and stupid before working themselves into a Red Bull-based frenzy at halftime and running Slovenia off the field in the second half. This is just not a long-term strategy for success. Unfortunately for the USA, Algeria match up pretty well with them offensively despite their lack of goals in this WC. Karim Ziani and Nadir Belhadj have looked dangerous up the wings, where the USA is either slow (Carlos Bocanegra on the right) or dumb (whoever they roll out on the left). If the USA can somehow score first, they should be able to keep the ball away from those guys because they should dominate through the center of the field. But again, that’s far from a sure thing.
Prediction: USA 1-1 Algeria. More cardiac kids stuff. If we’re right on these two results, Slovenia wins the group and the USA go through to the knockout round over England on goals scored.
Group D (2:30 PM ET)
Germany v. Ghana
Ghana actually lead the group at present with 4 points. But they’ve only scored twice in the tournament, and both have come on penalty kicks. We haven’t seen much to indicate that they’ll be able to open up the German defense (though, to be fair, we also haven’t really had a chance to see Germany defend normally, as they were down a man to Serbia and didn’t have to defend against Australia). To the extent that you can be a “soft” unbeaten team, we think Ghana are that team. The underwhelming performance of the other African teams don’t give us much more confidence, either.
Germany, despite their surprise loss, are still in OK shape. Their loss came in a game in which they ate a bad red card, and also missed a penalty kick that would have tied the game. Barring something weird here, they should still advance. Though there has been a lot of weirdness so far…
Prediction: Germany 2-0 Ghana. No more.
Serbia v. Australia
Both of these teams could still go through, though they each need some help in the other game. Serbia stole the aforementioned game off of Germany. They played smartly and toughly, if not all that well, which is a decent summary of their identity as a team. Australia bounced off the canvas to salvage a point against Ghana in a game in which they again ended up down a man. We no longer have any idea which Australian players remain unsuspended for this game, but do know that they’re going to have to stop playing Aussie Rules if they want to get a result here. Because of Germany’s better goal difference, Serbia needs to better Germany’s result this round in order to advance. So, unless Germany give up an early goal, expect this to be a lively affair.
Prediction: Serbia 1-1 Australia
By our math, that means we’re looking at Germany-USA (rematch of WWII) and Slovenia-Serbia (rematch of every second Saturday night gunfight since the Ottomans pulled out) in the Sweet 16.