Some random observations after the second group fixtures:
Slovenia 2-2 United States: The only change in Bob Bradley’s starting line-up was Jose Torres in the midfield for Ricardo Clark. Torres is the more creative offensive player, so Bradley was looking to boost his offense. Yet again, the U.S. gave up an early goal on Valter Birsa’s beautiful 35-yarder into the top right corner of the net. Goalie Tim Howard appeared to be caught flat-footed six yards off the line and later admitted that his line of sight was blocked and he didn’t see the shot. Central defender Oguchi Onyewu also appeared tentative and side stepped instead of stepping up to challenge Birsa, who had all kinds of time to control the ball and power the shot. The Americans lack of early focus is troubling. U.S. had four excellent opportunities in a matter of minutes toward the end of the first half, but Slovenian goalie Samir Handanovic was up to the challenge. The referee booked American striker Robbie Findley for a phantom hand ball. Findley will serve a suspension in the next match because of yellow cards in each of the first two games. Unfortunately, this was not be the worst call to go against the U.S. Jut before half, the Slovenian counterattack fed a through ball to striker Zlatan Ljubijankic in the box and he beat Howard with a well-struck ball to the far post. Other than one brief burst, the U.S. played tentatively and Slovenia was the better team in the first half. The Americans really went on the offensive in the second half.. Landon Donovan quickly took advantage of a defensive misstep to sweep in alone from the right wing, then, like a quarterback looking off a defensive back, duped Handanovic into believing he was going to deliver a cross before blasting a shot right by the goalie’s head. Handanovic actually flinched backward to avoid being hit by the ball. It’s a different American team in the second half. More energy, crisper passes, tighter marking. The Slovenians got chippy midway through, sloppily taking down Americans from behind several times, resulting in yellow cards. Despite the dominance, the U.S. kept just missing shots until Michael Bradley ran onto a header from Altidore and banged it past Handanovic for the tying goal. Minutes after that, Maurice Edu slammed in the go ahead goal off a Donovan free kick, but the referee claimed a foul by the Americans and called it off. This is the call that will be endlessly discussed. Replays showed several Slovenians grabbing and holding Americans on the play and one American doing the same. None of it had any influence on the play. The referee never explained the foul call and it cost the Americans a win. The Americans showed great resilience coming back from a two-goal deficit, but deserved the win after playing a dynamic second half. Fortunately, they still control their own fate and will advance if they beat Algeria in their last group fixture. Slovenia can advance with a win or tie against England.
England 0-0 Algeria: Not surprisingly, Fabio Capello replaced first fixture goat, Robert Green in the goal with David “Calamity“ James. Gareth Berry also returned from his ankle injury to the starting line-up as the defensive center midfielder. The Three Lions should feel more confident allowing both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to push up on the attack in this game. James survived his first pressure making a leaping grab on a corner kick among several Algerian players. The Desert Foxes play a disciplined defense and seem to be frustrating the English strikers and their counterattack applies a lot of pressure on the English back four. As expected, Gerrard and Lampard press forward at every opportunity, but even without the responsibility of the holding midfield position, they still appear disjointed and lack vision. The English put more shots on goal than the Algerians, but most were not troublesome and the Algerians legitimately held England to a first half standstill. This is not the mismatch everyone expected. Gerrard blew an excellent early second half opportunity when a defensive miscue gave the English attack the ball and numbers, but Gerrard’s weak cross aimed at no one in particular was easily intercepted. Gerrard had a very poor game overall, showing none of his usual creative flair. Algeria showed little second half offense, really packed their defense behind the ball, and looked to be playing for the tie. England finally started playing with some desperation midway through, but were reduced to firing long range shots because of the complete failure of their offense to attain any kind of sync. England has looked nothing like the top 10 team they are supposed to be and, like the French, appear to be imploding. The Three Lions will advance with a win against Slovenia. A tie will do them no good unless Algeria manages to beat the Americans or it is a very high-scoring tie. The Algerians only shot at advancement is to beat the U.S and have the English lose to Slovenia.