Some random observations after the first group fixtures:
England 1-1 United States: Achilles heel for USA has historically been giving up goals in the first 15 minutes of their first World Cup fixture. This game was no different. Backline mistake by USA in the 4th minute resulted in a Emile Heskey interception followed by a one-touch through ball to Steven Gerrard, who made a short run through center into the penalty area and finished off with a goal. From then on the USA had to chase the game. Without a true holding midfielder in the lineup (Gareth Barry was not fit), England’s strategy was to use plenty of speed on the flanks to open up space for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the center. England definitely did a better job of controlling the midfield, and a number of quick Three Lions counterattacks began there. Despite being behind the USA showed decent direct attacking quality through the center, and put England on their back heels on certain set pieces. I guess Robert Green won’t be playing for England much longer; a catastrophic error by Green lets an easy save on a Clint Dempsey strike in. After the half England played with a renewed sense of purpose, playing short possession passes through the center. Exciting back-and-forth play the last quarter of the game. England coach Fabio Capello changed tactics midstream, advancing 3 players up front and pushing forward in numbers. Wayne Rooney finally began to show up, but Jay DeMerit was in Rooney’s grill all match long. Once the England attack got off the schneid the USA gave up way too much possession late. England has to be disappointed at not getting full points, but a mature performance – if not entirely satisfying – by the USA.
Algeria 0-1 Slovenia: Not the most tactically creative fixture. Both teams looked to stay disciplined in the back while countering quickly with long passes, mostly down the flanks, into the offensive end. No real midfield control from either side; when either team tried to slowly build an attack they stalled. Not the most sustained attacks or refined finishing skills from either team, as if both teams were just going to pound the ball upfield and hope that their opposition would make a defensive mistake they could take advantage of. Lots of crosses, long passes and through balls to nobody in particular, and no diagonal runs at all as both sides just played east-west football (clearly both teams missed the classes on taking advantage of space and getting at the end of a pass). The predictable defensive breakdown happened in the 79th minute when Algeria, down to ten men, fell asleep on a routine strike from 20 yards out from Robert Koren that the Algerian keeper should have fielded easily. After scoring Slovenia just as predictably dropped back and held on for dear life, not even attempting to get forward in any organized way even though they had a man advantage. Slovenia take the early lead in Group C in a stultifyingly sleep-inducing match.