Fabio Capello will have been one of the happiest men in Cape Town on Friday evening following the draw for the 2010 World Cup. The Italian tactician will have been delighted to see his team drawn in Group C along with the USA, Algeria and Slovenia. Each of the three opponents presents a winnable game for England, but it will be the avoidance of certain sides or a ‘Group of Death’ which will please Capello the most. With some extremely strong sides outside the seeded teams in the draw England could have been much more unfortunate. This point is emphasised all the more when you look at Group G which sees many people’s favourites Brazil pitted against Portugal, the Ivory Coast and North Korea. For a first round group to have such players as Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Kaka competing against each other is a mouth-watering prospect, but for the teams involved it presents a real early test and if the Brazilians are slow starters it could prove costly.
England will have been delighted to avoid Drogba and especially Ronaldo, considering their recent tournament record against Portugal, but they have also managed to avoid France, the more powerful African nations such as Ghana or Cameroon and other strong European qualifiers such as Serbia. With this seemingly one of the strongest World Cups in recent times England have done fantastically well in the draw. When faced with the world’s media immediately following the draw Capello had the following to say: “It’s not so bad. We’ve played the US and Slovenia at home and played well and won. But when we have to play here in June it will be different. Algeria beat Egypt and they have a really good team now. Every opponent will be strong.”
The fact that Capello has already pitted his wits against both the USA and Slovenia and won on both occasions is pleasing, but a Wembley friendly is certainly a different proposition than a competitive World Cup match. Slovenia in fact looked a very capable side, especially in the second half when they held on to the ball extremely well while England struggled slightly. This technical ability is something Capello has already highlighted when questioned about his opponents. The result in the Wembley encounter will not have much bearing on the way England approach this match, but the fact that Capello fully understands the Slovenians’ way of playing from direct experience will certainly stand in good stead prior to this encounter.
The USA, on the other hand, were poor when they played at Wembley but many are highlighting their recent Confederations Cup exploits – where they finished as runners up to Brazil – as a good indicator to show they will be pose a tough test in South Africa next year. They were victorious against Spain in the semi-final and were extremely unfortunate to go down to Brazil in the final having taken a two goal lead. In the Spain match particularly, the work-rate shown by the Americans was first class, they never gave the Spaniards time to settle on the ball and get into their normal passing rhythm continually pressing them high up the pitch. It was a fantastic performance and one which they will certainly try to replicate against England. Head Coach Bob Bradley has developed a well organised and efficient side which will certainly be a test for Capello’s England. What many people like to forget about this summer’s Confederations Cup, however, when discussing the USA, is their dismal start which saw them very fortunate to make it through the group stage to the semi-final. With a 3-1 loss to Italy in their opening match the USA again conceded three in their second encounter against Brazil without reply and it was only down to a 3-0 win against Egypt in their last game and Italy’s loss to Brazil which saw them through on goal difference. In these two performances the US did not look well organised and were taken apart by their opponents. England will be just as aware of these performances as the second against Brazil and the semi against Spain.
Algeria is the only unknown quantity in this group but is a team which England will only be too aware of. Capello has already highlighted the fact that they dispatched of Egypt in the play-off to make the plane to South Africa. This is no mean feat as Egypt are the current holders and winners of the last two African Cup of Nations and certainly looked a competitive side during the Confederations Cup, scoring three against Brazil and beating World Cup holders Italy. The fact they dispatched of Egypt is all the typical England fan is aware of concerning Algeria, but with the African Cup of Nations looming on the horizon it provides the fans and the coaching staff with an ideal opportunity to run the rule over the North Africans. England is already looking to set up a friendly prior to the tournament against Egypt to get some experience against a similar North African side.
The draw not only specifies the opponents for the group stage, it also provides an opportunity to track possible opponents in the knock-out stages and cements the venues for the fixtures. England’s possible opponents in the round of 16 will be taken from Germany, Serbia, Ghana or Australia, and they could meet France in the following round – a team England struggled against in Capello’s first ever encounter as England boss, but whose form has been so poor were not seeded despite winning the tournament in 1998. Capello will be confident of his side beating any opponent put in front of them in this summer’s tournament, so must be sure of the chance his side has of progressing well in the tournament.
England has also been fortunate concerning the venues for their group match fixtures. Their opening match against the USA will take place at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, close to Capello’s first choice team base camp. The Italian believes it is imperative for his team to utilise the Royal Bafokeng sports complex as their training base to make use of the state-of-the-art facilities, but more importantly for his players to acclimatise to the altitude. It is likely that England will be back in Rustenburg for the round of 16 so for Capello it is key that the FA secure him his favoured base camp. England’s second and third fixtures will be played in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth against Algeria and Slovenia respectively. These venues are both at sea-level and so will not have altitude issues, meaning that if England have the benefit of starting at altitude and gaining a high fitness level before moving down to sea level they will feel a higher level of fitness for the second and third matches. On the downside, there will certainly be a high degree of travel involved between these host cities but that was always going to be the case in a county the size of South Africa.
Each and every England fan will have been glued to their screens watching the draw as will each and every player hopeful of making that plane to South Africa. England captain John Terry has since had the following to say: “For me, it’s all about that first game and getting off to a good start. Every team’s opening match is important and we’re no different – it’s a big game.”
Terry is certainly right, as a win in the opening match puts you in a good position to top the group, but many of the others won’t be thinking that far ahead just yet. David Beckham was the only England player lucky enough to see the draw in person and will be hoping that his expertise of plying his trade in America will finally have some benefit for him on the pitch, as he will be able to provide expert knowledge to Capello which may cement his place in the squad. Whether this will be enough will remain to be seen. In the match against Slovenia, both Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon staked their claims for a regular start – with the former scoring the winner – and both may feel that this could