Group C has been a mixture of emotions for one team in particular. England expected to take the full nine points available from the three games, yet only managed to scrape together five. The group winners were the United States thanks to their superior goal difference, after they also finished on five points. Algeria were the ones who finished bottom after a disappointing showing in the two games, only showing real heart against the English. Slovenia also performed admirably and were only sent home thanks to a last-minute goal from Landon Donavan, which put USA top and pushed England into second place. The Americans now face Ghana in the second round on Saturday whilst England face old rivals Germany in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
The first match was on June 12, when England faced their toughest rivals in the group, USA. A goalkeeping fumble by Robert Green handed the Americans a point in a game which, in truth, neither side deserved to walk away with the three points. Clint Dempsey’s weak long-range effort from 25 yards was allowed to squeeze through the goalkeeper’s hands and roll over the line. This was after Steven Gerrard had put Fabio Capello’s men ahead in the 4th minute, after some good build-up play with Emile Heskey. In the second half England created the better of the chances, as Heskey blasted his gilt-edged chance straight at Tim Howard. Although England looked the most threatening, the danger of Bob Bradley’s men on the counter-attack made the English nervous throughout. Jozy Altidore had the best effort in the second half, as Rob Green made up for his error to push the Villarreal forward’s near-post strike on to the post. The result was hailed in the States as a victory, whereas in England it was met with concern.
Polokwane was the venue for the next match between Slovenia and Algeria – a drab match where both sides appeared worried of taking chances and posed few risks to the each other’s defence. Another goalkeeping error was to take centre stage, as a Robert Koren effort easily made its way past Algerian goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi. This was just after Algerian substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal was shown red for two yellow cards, the latter for a needless handball. This gave Slovenia their first ever World Cup win, something that they built on in the remaining fixtures.
With Ellis Park raving with the prospect of a good, tight match between the Americans and Slovenians, the fixture certainly didn’t disappoint the vast number of supporters. A disallowed goal from Maurice Edu denied the North Americans a win after the referee ruled for a push in the box. There appeared no reason for the goal to be chalked off and replays confirmed Edu’s strike should have stood. Slovenia took a surprise 2-0 lead, after excellent goals from Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljubijankic. After the break Landon Donovan took advantage of some defensive misjudgements, and another goalkeeping error, to allow USA back into the game. Michael Bradley then drew level after a good build up play, to deny the European minnows the assured qualification going into the final group game.
This left England to take advantage but unfortunately a poor performance from the pre-tournament third favourites disappointed the barmy army, as boos rang out around the stadium at the final whistle. Algeria deserved the point after an impressive performance at the back, and England simply could not break them down. This left the pressure firmly on Capello’s shoulders, as he needed to mastermind a win in the final group game to advance to the next round.
Slovenia for the team to advance, although the Slovenians might have scored but for some impressive defending by both John Terry and Matthew Upson. The goal was a relief as England threatened in the early stages but some impressive saves from Udinese’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. The goal came about after a neat passing display allowed James Milner to cross a strikers’ dream delivery for the Tottenham hit-man, and he did not disappoint with the goalkeeper unable to keep the ball out. Terry, Wayne Rooney, Gerrard and Frank Lampard all had chances to improve the score-line but it remained 1-0 to the 1966 World Cup winners. With the final whistle ringing around the Port Elizabeth, England were currently sitting top of Group C, with Slovenia going through as well.
This was all to change as a 91st-minute winner from Donovan turned the group on its head. With Algeria hanging on, America wasted numerous chances to take the lead with Jozy Altidore’s poor finishing leaving his country facing elimination. Clint Dempsey also had a goal disallowed through a suspicious offside, leaving the Americans wondering whether it was their day or not. The goal did come to give the Americans an easy route through to the last-16 to facing Ghana and possible quarter-final fixture against Uruguay or Korea Republic. The goal also means England face Germany and a possible tricky tie with Argentina.
Group C results
England 1-1 USA
Algeria 0-1 Slovenia
England 0-0 Algeria
USA 1-0 Algeria
Slovenia 0-1 England