USA-England head-to-head matchups
Many people think Saturday's match between the U.S. and England in Rustenburg is a classic David vs. Goliath confrontation.
England is the bookmakers' overwhelming favorite against the spunky underdog U.S. On paper, the bookmakers are right and there should be only one winner, but this is the World Cup. This is not some fantasy game and the pressure is all on the Three Lions.
If Fabio Capello's men play at the top of their game and Bob Bradley's team do likewise, it's a 3-1 England victory. If however, England has an off day and the USMNT hits top gear, all bets are off. Man-for-man England look and are stronger than the USA.
Let's now delve into the starting XI's and find out exactly how they stack up head-to head.
Goalkeeper: David James vs. Tim Howard - Advantage USA
In a way these two men are very similar. They're both superb shot stoppers and have the ability to make themselves seem much bigger than they are. They're excellent at getting into the minds of penalty takers and they've both been the fulcrum of their teams over the last 2-3 seasons. They've also had their share of high profile gaffes and felt the sting of the fourth estate. The fact that they've both survived and prospered tells me you're dealing with two immense characters.
Right Back: Glen Johnson vs. Steve Cherundolo – Advantage USA
Both men played on teams that had crushingly disappointing seasons for Liverpool and Hanover 96 respectively, so will probably look at this adventure as a relief. Taking into account experience, Cherundolo knows his way around an international pitch blindfolded while Johnson is still somewhat of a rookie in the England back line. Defensively the American has the edge as he consistently does his job, while you're never completely sure of what Johnson will produce. As an attacking threat, Johnson clearly has more potential but Cherundolo is no slouch and has more than his fair share of assists.
Left Back: Ashley Cole vs. Carlos Bocanegra – Advantage England
Ashley Cole missed two months of the BPL season after breaking his foot in a challenge with American Landon Donovan! Cole also had to deal with his private life being splashed all over the tabloids however he did win the Premier League & FA Cup double with Chelsea. He is widely considered to be in the top three left full backs in world football and if on top form, this claim is justified. Carlos Bocanegra endured a tough season with his club side Rennes, a mid table French team. The American captain plays with typical English attributes, heart & commitment.
Right Center Back: Jamie Carragher vs. Jay Demerit – Advantage England
Jamie Carragher is a better footballer than Jay Demerit but that doesn't necessarily mean that on the day, he'll be a better player than the American. Both players are heart-on-the-sleeve style performers and both men are probably a little surprised there here, starting a game in the World Cup Finals. What you see is what you get!
Left Center Back: John Terry vs. Oguchi Onyewu – Advantage England
John Terry has had a nine months that he'll not forget quickly. He captained his club side, Chelsea, to the double, he captained his country to the brink of the World Cup Finals, he lost the captaincy to his country and had his private life brutally dissected – Onyewu probably feels the same way. He secured a high profile transfer to AC Milan but sat on the bench and when he did play it was for the USMNT and he tore up his knee leading him to miss close to six months. Terry is all about experience, Onyewu is all about potential, and each is at the crossroads of their careers for different reasons.
Right Midfield: Aaron Lennon vs. Clint Dempsey – Advantage USA
Every team needs a flyer and they don’t fly much faster than Aaron Lennon however the England winner is far from the finished article. Yes, he’s capable of match winner brilliance but far too often he’s missing the finished product. His crossing is erratic and he’s not a cold-blooded finisher of goal scoring opportunities. Clint Dempsey on the other hand is a polished diamond. His level of play since plying his trade in England has been moving in an upwardly mobile direction season after season. The American can finish clinically and his distribution is at times outstanding.
Left Midfield: Joe Cole vs. Landon Donovan - Advantage USA
Cole and Donovan are perhaps the two most gifted players to ever wear their national team jerseys. Cole though has always been under appreciated while Donovan has had to carry the burden of being ‘the one.’ If Joe Cole were Brazilian, we would say he’s one of the best in the world however because he’s English, he’s inconsistent, a luxury - ah but what a luxury because when he’s on song he gives England the balance that they need. Donovan has the added pressure of being the USMNT’s best player and talisman. Over the past year there can be no doubt he has matured into that role and embraced it. He’s a tremendous team player with the knack of scoring big goals and he knows these English players – motivation isn’t an issue.
Center Midfield: Frank Lampard vs. Jose Francisco Torres – Advantage England
When you talk about premier midfield players and you mention the phrase ‘world class’ Frank Lampard’s name is in the elite. To score 20+ goals in six consecutive seasons is almost unheard of in today’s football. There is nothing that Lampard can’t do as he makes playing football look incredibly simple and that is his key – keeping the game simple. Jose Francisco Torres is living the dream - from obscurity to the World Cup Finals. In many cases this pressure would be crushing but for Torres, I think he’s oblivious to it. If he’s successful it’s because he’s staying in the moment and not letting his head get carried away with his surroundings. It’s time to play almost unconsciously.
Center Midfield: Steven Gerrard vs. Michael Bradley – Advantage England
To put it simply, if Steven Gerrard is on top form, England possesses one of the greatest attacking midfielders to have ever played football. With the surprise bonus of the captain’s armband, Gerrard knows that this will be his last big hurrah on the world stage. How many match winning performances does he have left in him, I believe a couple and he owes those to England. Michael Bradley is in a unique situation. He is the beating heart of the team and the beating heart of his dad, his coach, Bob Bradley. Concentration and discipline will be the buzzwords for Bradley and if he maintains both, only good results will happen.
Center Forward: Peter Crouch vs. Edson Buddle – Advantage USA
Peter Crouch has a scoring record for England that makes for pleasant reading. He finds the net every other match, which at the international level is outstanding. He’s more than just a big man with good feet, he’s a good player with a locker full of underrated and at times under appreciated skills. He must have someone to play off though and that’s where it could get tricky. Goal scoring is about confidence and it’s about streaks. Edson Buddle has found that combination at just the right time. Now the question is can he do it against the top teams in the world. Right at this moment the question has been unanswered but I believe it is yes!
Center Forward: Wayne Rooney vs. Jozy Altidore – Advantage England
England’s talisman needs no introduction. Wayne Rooney is simply a phenomenal player who has the ability to take his country all the way to the World Cup Final. In many respects he reminds me of Diego Maradona in 1986 except he has a better supporting cast. There are doubts about his fitness and that could be the only reason for him to fail because his desire to be the best is frightening. Strikers need goals to feed their egos however Altidore has been in short supply of that precious ingredient. There is more to him than just finding the back of the net though and he’ll need to bring all his team play to the fore. He’ll also need to keep his temperament in check when the battle gets heated.
Coaches: Fabio Capello vs. Bob Bradley – Advantage England
In Fabio Capello, England have the best-paid coach in South Africa. They also have a coach who has won everything on a domestic level but…he has never managed at a major international competition. Capello is so focused though, I don’t believe that that will be a handicap. He has stated that anything less than a semi-final place would be a failure. Now that’s putting pressure on yourself!
If you offered that semi-final place to Bob Bradley right now he’d bite your hand off.
The American coach has been consistently maligned during his tenure however he has managed and won tournaments. He also knows South Africa. Detailed and obsessive, Bradley will leave nothing to chance.
We won’t know the starting XI’s until the last possible moments as the coaches play mind games but looking at the squads I think that these are the 22 that will trot out on Saturday night.
England should have enough to win and I believe that they will. A tie and Capello will be disappointed however he will know that that result is not the end of the world, a loss is.
Bradley in all honesty would take a draw right now but in the back of his mind, I’m sure he’s thinking about 1950 and one of the great shock results in World Cup history. Could it happen again?
That’s why they play the game instead of talking about it on paper.
Nick Webster covers the English national team and the Barclay's Premier League for FoxSoccer.com.