The United States soccer team has been given a favorable draw in Group C of next year's World Cup. After opening with a Saturday showcase game against England, they'll face Algeria and Slovenia.
There's a really nifty video with fan reactions and analysis from Philadelphia Union assistant coach John Hackworth in the player below.
Here's the full draw:
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
The U.S. group schedule is as follows:
Saturday, June 12 vs. England, 2:30 p.m. Eastern time (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg)
Friday, June 18 vs. Slovenia, 10 a.m. Eastern time (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Wednesday, June 23 vs. Algeria, 10 a.m. Eastern time (Loftus Versfeld; Tshwane/Pretoria)
ESPN's PR department has already announced that the U.S.-England game will be broadcast on ABC. All of the games in the World Cup will be broadcast on a combination of ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 in English, Univision and Telefutura in Spanish and ESPN Deportes in Portuguese.
If the United States wins its group, it will face the second-place team from Group D at Rustenburg on Saturday, June 26. If the U.S. finishes second, it will face the winner of Group D at Mangaung/Bloemfontein on Sunday, June 27.
I've posted a poll asking if you think the U.S. will advance from its group. I think it's quite possible.
What do you think of this set of predictions for first- and second-place finishers:
Group A: Mexico, South Africa
French national sports newspaper L'Équipe has a banner headline claming that Les Bleus "are lucky once more." But remember that the host has advanced from the group stage at every World Cup ever contested. If it's to happen again this time, it will come at the France's expense. Les Bleus have loads of talent but little chemistry, and coach Raymond Domenech has to run out of karma at some point soon. Mexico is often underrated, but this current Tri squad has rising stars that will become international names next summer.
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria
Argentina's biggest newspaper, Clarin, says this group is "accessible" for the Albiceleste. That's an understatement. Argetina is loaded with stars and will be among the favorites to win it all, despite struggling to qualify for the tournament under coach Diego Maradona. The difference between Maradona's team and Domenech's is that Argentina is deeper and its group does not contain a dark horse third team. It might not even have a second. So I'll take the African team in the World Cup on African soil.
Group C: England, United States
The U.S.-England clash will get all the headlines, but the last match of the group against Algeria will be a knockout game. Two draws and a win should be enough to get the U.S. to the knockout round, but that Algeria game is really tricky. Still, I think the U.S. has just enough to get it done - especially if Oguchi Oneywu is back on the field after recovering from the torn
ACL patellar tendon (thanks for the correction in the comments) he suffered in October.
Group D: Germany, Ghana
Germany is by far the top team here, but the rest of the group will be very entertaining. Australia and Ghana both made the Round of 16 in 2006, and both teams will bring a ton of fans. Some may see Serbia as a darkhorse, but I don't think they have enough attacking talent. Nor does Australia, whose stars are four yars older than last time around. Ghana will take second place, and they'll have a lot of fun doing it.
Group E: Netherlands, Cameroon
The only question in this group is which of these teams finishes first. There's a huge dropoff in talent between them and Denmark, which should finish third. Cameroon has superstar striker Samuel Eto'o, who scored in last May's Champions League final for Barcelona. The Oranje-clad Dutch were the first team in the world to book a place in South Africa. They have a chance to go very far if they finish at the top of the group.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay
New Zealand is in a World Cup for the first time since 1982, but might be the worst team in the field. Slovakia could cause an upset, but Paraguay is as steady as it gets on the international stage. They'll reach the knockout stage with the defending world champions. Azzuri coach Marcello Lippi is quoted by La Gazzetta Dello Sport as being "neither satisfied nor upset." His countrymen are surely in a much better mood.
Group G: Brazil, Ivory Coast
The draw as a whole is remarkably balanced. But if any one group is a "Group of Death," this is it. Brazil is Brazil, Ivory Coast is perhaps the best team in Africa, and Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo. But the Portuguese are perennial underachievers - ask the 2002 U.S. team that beat them in South Korea - and haven't got the talent to finish second. North Korea will finish last, which is too bad for Kim Jong Il. But this group as a whole will be quite entertaining.
Group H: Spain, Honduras
Perhaps I'm biased because I've seen Honduras play so often over the last few years. But I like the energy and spirit that Los Catrachos play with, and I think they'll bring some spunk in their first World Cup since 1982. Spain is the reigning European champion, and will bring many of that squad's players to South Africa. They should win this group easily.
From there, who knows. What do you think?