Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Predictions! For Groups C and D

Moving along with our crystal-ball look at South Africa 2010.

Today, how we see things shaking out in groups C and D.

Group C:

England 3, United States 1; Slovenia 2, Algeria 1.

Slovenia 1, United States 1; England 2, Algeria 0.

England 2, Slovenia 1; United States 3, Algeria 0.

Standings: England 9 points (plus-5 goal differential), United States 4 (plus-0; 5 GF), Slovenia 4 (plus-0, 4 GF), Algeria 0 (minus-6).

My thinking: England walks through. The Three Lions aren't as good as England prefers to think, but I see them scoring with relative ease against the U.S., overpowering Algeria and playing just hard enough to defeat Slovenia even when a tie would win them the group. I anticipate an ultra-tight race for the second spot in the knockout phase between the Yanks and the Slovenes, and this one comes down to Goals For, with the U.S. squeaking through with a late goal against nothing-to-play-for Algeria -- much as the U.S. advanced in the Confederations Cup in South Africa a year ago by beating Egypt 3-0. ... The schedule sets up well for the Slovenes; they get the weakest team in the group up front while the Yanks face the English. The key to the U.S. campaign will be ignoring the daunting history of teams losing their first match (they rarely advance to the knockout round) and taking a point from Slovenia, then piling up a big victory over Algeria. Algeria just doesn't look ready to play Cup-winning football. Also, coming from north Africa, the home-continent advantage doesn't seem as if it will be as big a deal for Algeria.

Group D:

Serbia 3, Ghana 2; Germany 2, Australia 0.

Germany 1, Serbia 1; Ghana 2, Australia 1.

Germany 1, Ghana 0; Serbia 2, Austalia 0.

Standings: Serbia 7 points (plus-3 goal differential, 6 GF), Germany 7 (plus-3, 4 GF), Ghana 3 (minus-1), Australia 0 (minus-5).

My thinking: Serbia and Germany will take this group down to the final minute, and a late goal by Serbia will give it the tiebreaker it needs to win the the group. The key match for Serbia will be the first, when it gets dangerous Ghana in its opener before a pro-Ghana crowd. Serbia's craftiness will get it just enough goals to get three points as Germany is taking care of Australia. Then, in a cautious (both ways) second match, the Serbs and Germans play to a tie (and it could be 0-0, as well), each confident it needs only a point in that match because each plans to win its final match, and does. ... Ghana will be a handful for everyone, but only against Australia will its physical prowess lead to victory. ... Australia is no slouch, but this is a very tough group. If the World Cup weren't being held in Africa, maybe it is able to beat Ghana, but I don't see it happening in South Africa.

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