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The Cup Running Over


June 22, 2010 5:51 PM

Wednesday Preview: The Most Wide Open Groups in South Africa -- C and D -- Decide Who Moves On

Today features some of the most exciting action yet seen in a World Cup: Seven of these eight teams have a realistic shot at making the next round. In the case of Group C, that's because all the teams are fairly mediocre; in Group D (the Group of Death), it's because they're all decent and alive -- save Australia, which has seen its chances almost destroyed by having men sent off in both games.

GROUP C

Slovenia-England: If the group remains exactly as it does today, Slovenia and the US move on. So defense-oriented Slovenia is in the enviable position of being able to play for a 0-0 result. The problem is that its confidence may be shaken after giving away two second-half goals to the US in a very un-Slovenian way -- given that this is the kind of team that usually gets stronger as the game progresses. As for the English, the national media is in an uproar and the players seem to be up in arms against Italian skipper Fabio Capello. Going into the Cup, retired Slovenian star Zlatko Zahovic said of England, "They are a team full of stars and egos. They cannot possibly spend a month and a half together without friction." Maybe he knew something. It's hard to believe that England won't snap out of its slump and get out of the group but it now has only 90 minutes in which to do it. A game well worth watching if only to see if and how England implodes. Yet again.

USA-Algeria: Going into the tournament, most Americans assumed this was a gimme and maybe it will turn out that way. But Algeria knows that if it can pull this one out, it will not only send the Americans home; it will send the Algerians into the second round as long as the Slovenians win or tie, or England beats the Slovenians by two goals (or Algeria does the same). The problem, as always, for "Les Verts" is that with a team composed primarily of Frenchmen who have come back to Algeria to play, they play like the French -- decent defense but no offense. As far as the US is concerned, it has to win to ensure passage into the next round since with a draw, it could still go out if England beats Slovenia. On paper this should be an American victory but it's always dicey when you're playing a team from a region where beating the Americans will make the players heroes for life.


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The US hopes to be celebrating after the Algeria game.


GROUP D

Germany-Ghana: Ghana improbably leads this group and needs only a tie to advance. But the Germans are a team that has been to the semis an astonishing ten times so it would be a real surprise if it couldn't get out of this group, even as tough as it is. The Germans will be hurting at striker with the red card suspension of Miroslav Klose, so they'll have to rely on others to put the ball in the net. As far as Ghana is concerned, it will have to soak up the constant pressure and strike on the counter. The problem is that so far, its offense has appeared to be anemic. Advantage Germans, though it's hardly a sure thing.

Serbia-Australia: Barring a Ghana victory and a similar result from Australia,  the Aussies are going out of the tournament. For Serbia to ensure that it stays in no matter what happens in the other game, it must win. By now, we know the drill. This Serbian team is very strong defensively and fairly weak offensively, with a propensity for picking up red cards. If it can somehow avoid self-destructing -- a somewhat unfortunate team habit -- it can win and move on. But stranger things have happened.

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