WHAT'S ON THE LINE
England and the U.S. are presumed to be the group favorites, so whoever prevails will seize early control of Group C. Historically, England starts slow in these tournaments, so a win for the Three Lions will do plenty to settle the nerves. For the U.S., any kind of positive result will give it a huge boost of confidence. Even a narrow defeat wouldn't be catastrophic, as the U.S. is expected to find greater success against its other group foes, Slovenia and Algeria.
STYLE AND TACTICS
England has a tremendous edge in terms of on-the-ball skill, so look for the players to set the tempo. While they can play direct, hitting long balls to Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch, the Three Lions are also capable of playing on the ground, with Wayne Rooney dropping into midfield and distributing to wingers like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon, as well as fullbacks Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. England can also threaten through Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, especially when they make late runs out of midfield.
The U.S. will be content to sit back, soak up pressure and nail England on the break. The Americans are highly organized, although their back four is a bit unsettled at the moment given that Oguchi Onyewu is still working his way back from injury. When the U.S. does break out, the team will try to find the feet of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, who will look to set up forwards Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley. Altidore should be recovered from a sprained ankle he sustained last week, but if he can't go, look for the red-hot Edson Buddle to take his place.
In a game littered with intriguing matchups, one that will bear watching is whoever mans the right flank for England against presumed U.S. left back Carlos Bocanegra. Bocanegra is experienced but isn't the fleetest of foot, meaning Wright-Phillips or Lennon will have a huge speed advantage. Given the Americans' tendency to sit back, there might not be that much space to exploit anyway, but if England finds itself running at the U.S. defense, look for the Three Lions to test Bocanegra.
Set pieces are presumed to be a strength of both teams, but each side has struggled in that department in the friendlies leading up to the match.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
For England: Rooney, Gerrard and John Terry.
Rooney is the man who makes the team go, as he plays every game as if it were a Cup final. His finishing, passing and tenacity combine to make him one of the top players in the world. With Gareth Barry injured, Gerrard has been pulled back into the middle alongside Lampard and has looked short of his best. If manager Fabio Capello allows him to venture forward, he can carve teams apart. But if asked to play a more deep-lying role, England's attack may suffer. With Rio Ferdinand also injured, it will be up to Terry to pick up the slack along the backline and organize the England defense. Terry is a huge threat on set pieces as well.
For the U.S.: Donovan, Dempsey and Tim Howard.
Donovan and Dempsey are the key attacking players for the U.S., as they are the ones capable of the unexpected. Donovan has pace, but his vision, quick thinking and finishing are his biggest assets. Dempsey can conjure something out of nothing, and has often been used up top late in matches. There have been times when both players have been starved of service, however, and the U.S. will need to do what it can to control the game's tempo, even if it's for brief stretches.
That England will create chances is a given, so goalkeeper Howard will have to be at the top of his game.
WHAT WE CAN EXPECT
While the U.S. enters the match on a high following its exploits at last summer's Confederations Cup, England is still a heavy favorite, with a talent edge at every position except keeper. For that reason England will be the aggressors, whereas the U.S. will attempt to play its rope-a-dope strategy.
The U.S. will need to play almost perfect soccer to pull off an upset. Great goalkeeping, heroic defending and clinical finishing are all part of the Americans' recipe.
If England gets its nose in front, it's likely curtains for the U.S., which has struggled to break down organized defenses in the past.
Almost all of the pressure is on England. The U.S. is at its best when thrust into the role of underdog, and the team's level of self-belief is high. With 13 of the 23 U.S. players having competed in the English Premier League at one time or another, the Americans shouldn't be awed by playing England.
At the risk of having my passport revoked, I'll go with England to win 2-0.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.