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Tactics Board

World Cup 2010, Group C

May 25, 2010
By Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell

Group C: England | USA | Slovenia | Algeria

Group A | Group B | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

ENGLAND
Coach: Fabio Capello
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Wayne Rooney
Wildcard: James Milner
Weak spot: Goalkeeping uncertainty

They may be ranked among the favourites to lift the World Cup, but England's reliance on the brilliance of attacking maestro Wayne Rooney means they are more than a little vulnerable as they approach their latest summer weighed down by the familiar lofty expectations of their success-starved followers.

GettyImages / PhotographyWayne Rooney will carry the weight of England's expectation on his shoulders

The English nation has been gulping collective breaths or concern every time Manchester United hero Rooney has tripped or stumbled in the last couple of months, with the reality that there is no player who could come close to filling Rooney's boots if ill fortune befalls him meaning the English will walk a dangerous tightrope in South Africa.

Back-up striker Jermain Defoe has been in woeful form with Tottenham, while Aston Villa's Emile Heskey boasts a shockingly poor scoring record at international level and Peter Crouch's role as a super-sub suggests Capello's World Cup fate depends on Rooney's form and fitness.

However, the concerns for the highly experienced Italian coach do not end there. The injury to key holding midfielder Gareth Barry has led to rumours that Capello is considering switching to a formation featuring three centre backs, though the trio of skipper Rio Ferdinand, former captain John Terry and Tottenham's Ledley King are all injury prone.

That is before we get to the thorny issue of the goalkeepers. Joe Hart has shown the best recent form of the trio in the mix for a start, but Portsmouth's David James and West Ham's Robert Green appear to be ahead of him in the pecking order. In truth, Green and James tend to inspire more nerves than confidence between the sticks, so this is a problem area for England.

On the positive side, Frank Lampard is heading to the World Cup in fine form after emerging as the star turn in Chelsea's Double-winning side and Steven Gerrard should emerge from of his shell after a season when he has been held back by the ongoing traumas on and off the field at Liverpool.

Spurs winger Aaron Lennon, who has made it back from injury just in time to make the cut for the final 23-man South African party, has pace that will worry unsuspecting World Cup opponents.


USA
Coach: Bob Bradley
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Landon Donovan
Wildcard: Jozy Altidore
Weak spot: Dealing with rising expectations

The days of the USA heading to a World Cup with modest ambitions appear to be in the past and that reality presents its own problems for coach Bob Bradley as he plots a summer of South African success.

Tim Howard
GettyImagesTim Howard and Landon Donovan are key players for the U.S.

Working with a squad packed full of proven performers at international level and after their impressive showing in last summer's Confederations Cup in South Africa, the expectation is that Team USA will make a splash in this World Cup, with the likes of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard all established stars having proved their worth in the English Premier League.

Donovan, in particular, will be a vital performer for coach Bradley this summer. An ever present in the qualifying push, he has been boosted by his fine showing during a loan spell at Everton this season and his classy influence on the right flank of this USA side is viewed as pivotal.

The same is true of increasingly impressive left-winger Dempsey, who has played games aplenty in Fulham's hectic season, which came to an end at the Europa League final in mid-May. Nine goals and host of assists made him a star turn for Roy Hodgson's team and he will be looking to confirm his class this summer.

Throw in the likes of reliable Everton goalkeeper Howard and experienced defender Carlos Bocanegra and it is clear that this USA side have the ingredients to handle the unique demands that go with playing in a World Cup, yet there are a few weak spots in their make-up that have the potential to let them down.

A less-than-solid defensive line leaked a few too many goals in the qualifying programme and the central defensive positions are uncertain due to the ongoing injury battles of AC Milan's Oguchi Onyewu. Watford's Jay De Merit is not a proven performer at international level, while USA right-back Jonathan Spector has not looked too convincing in West Ham colours this season.

At the age of 20, up-and-coming striker Jozy Altidore provides the unexpected touch all sides like to have and the hope must be that the positives outweigh the negatives for the USA this summer. With Bob Bradley's son Michael likely to be one of the first names of his midfield selection, the script is written for the family connection to take the world by storm this summer. A decent group draw means they should have every chance to make progress.


SLOVENIA
Coach: Matjaz Kek
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Milivoje Novakovic
Wildcard: Andraz Kirm
Weak spot: Lack of big-time experience

Slovenia's build-up to the World Cup was dominated by an argument over player bonuses within the ranks, but that potentially disruptive sideshow has been resolved in time for coach Matjaz Kek to focus on the tough task of guiding his underdogs to glory in South Africa.

Robert koren
GettyImagesRobert Koren will be Slovenia's creator-in-chief in South Africa
Kek doesn't try to complicate things with tactical formation; the 4-4-2 line-up he sends into battle is set up to encourage the attacking bursts of full-backs Miso Brecko and Bojan Jokic, who performed so well during the 2010 World Cup qualifying push. Brecko, in particular, is capable of delivering quality balls into the box.

The Slovenians have been fortunate that they have been able to select a reasonably settled side in the last 18 months, with Kek able to forge a strong midfield unit featuring the influential Robert Koren and the hard working Aleksandar Radosavljevic. The former is the creator-in-chief, while the latter does the donkey work to give his partner the ammunition to make his talents pay.

The striking duties fall to Cologne's Milivoje Novakovic, who performed well during the qualifying push, scoring five times and leading the line well. He got into trouble with his club side after he allowed his celebrations following Slovenia's success in making the cut for South Africa 2010 to go on a little too long and his return to Germany was delayed, so just imagine what he will be like if they do well this summer.

One weak spot may be at the heart of the Slovenia defence, where the duo of Bostjan Cesar (Grenoble) and Marko Suler (Gent) have reputations for losing the concentration and making mistakes at crucial moments. Minor errors are generally exposed in big events such as a World Cup and coach Kek will have to make sure the duo retain their focus throughout.

A player to watch out for is keeper Samir Handanovic, who performed well in the qualifiers and is expected to attract transfer interest if he shines in this World Cup. He only recently signed a new contract at Italian side Udinese, but success on the biggest of stages tends to crank up the interest in a keeper of his quality.

Slovenia's chief motivation this summer may be trying to emerge from the shadow of scepticism that has clouded their recent success. Some cynics have suggested they were fortunate to beat Guus Hiddink's Russia in the World Cup play-offs last November, so all involved have a point to prove in South Africa.


ALGERIA
Coach: Rabah Saadane
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Karim Ziani
Wildcard: Hassan Yebda
Weak spot: Out of form players a concern

The countdown to the World Cup has been a little like a daily medical update for Algeria boss Rabah Saadane, with several of his star names embarking on a variety of methods to ensure they make their mark in South Africa this summer.

Karim Ziani Algeria
GettyImagesWolfsburg's Karim Ziani was Algeria's top scorer in qualifying

Key inventive outlet Karim Ziani, Portsmouth star Nadir Belhadj and Benfica's Hassan Yebda have all endured tricky seasons with their clubs as fitness and form issues have disrupted their preparations for the biggest international tournament of their careers, but the walking wounded will have to be patched up in time for the World Cup finals.

The form and fitness of Ziani is of particular importance to Algeria, with his role as playmaker in this side making the Wolfsburg man a central cog in Saadane's master plan. However, he has struggled to make his mark in the Bundesliga this season and a lack of match sharpness is the inevitable outcome.

Word has it that Ziani will head back to French league football after this World Cup, so a few decent showings in South Africa would do his future career prospects no harm and the same must be true for Belhadj, who is also set for a move this summer after a tough season with Portsmouth in England.

Belhadj has been suffering with an injury in recent weeks, but still managed to play his part in getting crisis-club Portsmouth to the FA Cup Final, where they lost narrowly to a powerful Chelsea side. He will be hopeful of making his mark at this World Cup despite missing the first group game due to suspension.

A weak spot in this Algerian line-up would seem to be up front, where striker Abdelkader Ghezzal (Siena) and Karim Matmour (Borussia Monchengladbach) offer little in the way of pace or panache. They proved as much in less-than convincing 2010 qualifying performances and it means the midfield creators need to shine if Algeria are to post in South Africa.

Another concern comes at the back, where Madjid Bougherra has not seen too much first-team action with Rangers this season. And their woes don't end there; Hameur Bouazza is charged with offering some creative flair in the heart of this team, yet he is another battling to be fit for the World Cup finals as he battles with a long-term groin problem.