United States-Slovenia Preview
Slovenia and the United States took advantage of errors by opposing goalkeepers to gain favorable results in their Group C openers. The storyline heading into this matchup, though, is midfielder Andrej Komac's bold prediction that his team will defeat the Americans.
Komac will get a chance to back up his words Friday in Johannesburg, and a victory would clinch a place in the knockout round for Slovenia.
Slovenia is on top of the group after a 1-0 win over Algeria on Sunday thanks to captain Robert Koren's goal in the 79th minute that was mishandled by goalkeeper Fawzi Chaouchi.
The United States knows what it's like to get such a fortunate break. Clint Dempsey scored when his shot from distance was misplayed by England goalkeeper Robert Green in a 1-all tie Saturday.
Slovenia, with a population of two million spread over land the size of New Jersey, has certainly taken confidence from its victory. Komac believes the tiny country will win its second straight.
"We are going to win this match," Komac told reporters after practice Tuesday.
Those words have gotten the attention of the U.S.
"I think talk is cheap," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "He's got to stand toe to toe. And they've got to stand toe to toe with us for 90 minutes. And if he's still standing, then I'll take my hat off to him. But a lot of boxers talk, too, and they're looking up at the lights. And the next thing they know, they're trying to figure out how they got there."
Howard excelled in the opener despite getting hurt when England striker Emile Heskey's boot struck him in the ribs. He used a painkiller at halftime and has been cleared to play Friday.
"Time is a good healer," he said. "I've had a few days. It's just going to be sensitive, but as you know, if you play at the highest level, I think you have to play through injuries."
While the U.S. was an underdog against the favored English, it expects a different match against the defensive-minded Slovenes.
"It will be interesting to see how this game shapes up because with a win, Slovenia are qualified," midfielder Landon Donovan said. "So it's hard to know whether they're going to go all out or whether they'll be happy with a point. We're going to have to try to assess that, and adjust in the game accordingly depending on how they play."
Central midfielders Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark were pinned in defensive positions against the English, but coach Bob Bradley may choose to go with a more attack-minded lineup to press the action against Slovenia.
Having upset Russia to qualify for the World Cup, Slovenia is looking to knock off another world superpower.
"After our first win against Algeria, we are very motivated for the next game," midfielder Dalibor Stevanovic said. "Everything is in our hands."