Former England players and coaches were delighted after the team was drawn with the United States, Algeria and Slovenia in Group C at next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
“That’s as good as we could have expected,” former national coach Terry Venables said after England avoided both France and Portugal in the group stage. “You could have hand-picked that and been happy with it.”
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England will open against the Americans on June 12 in Rustenburg, before facing Algeria in Cape Town on June 18 and Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on June 23.
“I think it’s one of the more well-balanced groups,” said England coach Fabio Capello, who attended the draw in Cape Town. “We’re going to have to be careful. All the games are difficult and we may start with the toughest game, since the United States will have a lot more time to prepare for the World Cup.”
Capello said he knew nothing about Algeria, which beat African champion Egypt in a one-match playoff to earn one of the 32 spots at the tournament. Slovenia beat Russia in a two-leg playoff to qualify.
Former England captain Alan Shearer, who played in the 1998 World Cup, said he expected Capello’s team to play well in all three of its group matches, and added that the Italian coach would be happy with the schedule.
“Fabio Capello will be sat in his seat in Cape Town, and inside he will be absolutely delighted with that draw,” Shearer said. “I don’t think anyone can be anything other than delighted with that.”
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, who has United States internationals Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson in his club squad, said the match would be like a Premier League game.
“The USA is like a team you meet every week,” Hodgson said. “It’s better than meeting North Korea and a style of play you’re not used to.”
United States goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who plays in England for Wolverhampton Wanderers, said everyone back home will be looking forward to the opening match.
“It’s a great draw for us, and from England’s point of view, it could have been a lot worse,” Hahnemann said in a radio interview. “How are the U.S. expected to do? Historically we haven’t got big-name players but we are used to achieving more than we are expected to.”
England won the World Cup in 1966, but hasn’t been able to get past the semifinals since last reaching that stage in 1990. They missed the tournament in 1994 – which was hosted by the United States – and then lost to Argentina in the second round in 1998, fell to Brazil in the 2002 quarterfinals and finally were eliminated by Portugal on penalties in the 2006 quarterfinals.
Venables said the match against the Americans would be the most difficult of the three.
“It’s a tough game,” Venables said. “They will be very well organized and very fit … They won’t give in until the last but we do have a bit more.”