BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

Two goalkeeping errors in the first round of Group C games have shaped the progress Slovenia are making in the World Cup with an English keeper’s slip and an Algerian’s mistake meaning that while The United States ended up with a draw with England, Slovenia got the win.

Slovenia are a maligned side not considered a threat – England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks – and rated 27th in the World but any qualification to the World Cup from Europe guarantees a capable side and Slovenia show signs of that.

The USA are rated 18th and are generally thought of to be “no mugs” although whenever they play against the English they are supposed to be rolled over. The headline on the New York Post on the morning after the 1-1 draw with England showed the pragmatism of the Soccer side of that nation: USA beat England 1-1.

The Americans start the game pumped up and in the first minute Clint Dempsey piles into a challenge elbow out leaving a heap of Zlatan Ljubijankic. Dempsey is lucky to not be shown a card and some Referees would have made that card red. Koman Coulibaly is as kind as the spin from Rob Green’s gloves to the USA number 8.

A win for Slovenia will put them into the second round – a draw in the group guarantees that – but the Americans have a belief that they are capable of progressing too and the need to defend agianst England gone the States are pressing well with Michael Bradley playing more passes in five minutes than he did in his previous ninety.

Ljubijankic is lively for the Europeans making play from the forward line and when he feeds Valter Birsa he see a cross from the right hand side whipped to Milivoje Novakovic who under the attentions of Oguchi Onyewu cannot finish.

The Slovenians settle much better than their opponents and start to play in the American half. Birsa is given the ball in the acre that hangs between the American defence and midfield – the area which Wayne Rooney was so well marshalled in – and unleashes the shot of the World Cup so far hitting a bending drive that fades away from Tim Howard and nestles in the back of the net.

The Americans struggle to respond. They come forward and the Slovenian organised midfield line falls back to squeeze Jozy Altidore as he tries to control passes sprayed out of the midfield. The hope for the USA seems to be in the pace of Altidore and Robbie Findley but with the Slovenians not needing to come forward there is little room at the back.

They start to drop between lines with American manager Bob Bradley’s son Michael picking up the ball from his defenders and then breaking through forwards. Bradley’s instincts are not matched by his team mates who seem to be regimented to a fault.

Altidore wins a free kick – Boštjan Cesar is harshly booked for a foul which did not look like a foul – and from the free kick José Francisco Torres whips a hard free kick around the wall and on target but saved from Samir Handanovic. It is perhaps the best hit shot from a dead ball thus far and is done by the tiny Tex-Mex midfielder who is less than five six and under ten stone. It signals the start of American pressure which sees a fluid four man attack of Findley feeding Altidore back to Findley going forward all the time to Dempsey who hits a low ball across which Landon Donovan seems set to finish from within the six yard box before Mišo Brecko takes it off his toe.

A minute later and it is 2-0. Brecko coming forward plays a ball into Birsa and suddenly he and Ljubijankic are faced with only Onyewu to beat and the ball to Ljubijanki? sees the number nine easily beat Tim Howard from the left hand side of the box.


Onyewu is the man out of step in his defensive line but the Americans are struggling with the onus being placed on them to attack. The gaps they leave between the lines are easy pickings for the Eastern Europeans who are used to drifting between the lines.

If Bob Bradley’s plan was to defend against England and then take the game to the other two nations in the group then it is woefully simplistic. In Torres he has a player who is too small, too weak for central midfield and they have delivered the game to the Europeans by playing a weakened midfield that is easy to take control of. Slovenia have been good, American have not been poor, but the weakness in the States side has been exploited effectively and at half time it seems a long, long way back.

The Americans start that route back with two substitutions and a quick goal when Landon Donovan is released down the right hand side and gets into the box at the by-line looking for a cross and then deciding to smash the ball past Handanovic. They roar back to the half way line and the determination they show powers them on to a free kick on the left near the half way line that Donovan whips in and Dempsey is close to converting.

Bradley the Father has switched to a 433 with Donovan and Dempsey supporting Altidore and the increase in movement is instantly noticeable although the midfield – out fought in the first half – battles hard but is overwhelmed in numbers. The game flashes from end to end excitingly. Altidore treads on the ball when through at one end, Birsa seems to have mastered striking the Jubulani and test Howard with an inswinging cross.

The Americans have sacrificed the wide midfield areas but Maurice Edu has given a steel in the middle which was previously lacking but the Americans lack an end product – a finisher – and as Altidore goes over on the edge of the box under pressure from Marko Šuler one cannot help but think that the free kick won is a better opportunity than any the Haitian centreforward could muster. Donovan strikes the free kick which bounces around the box before – to prove the point – Altidore hammers it at goal but into the arms of Samir Handanovi?.

Maurice Edu recovered from a cruciate ligament injury in two weeks – he said he asked God to help – perhaps he has asked again or maybe he has brought the help himself.

Ljubijanki? comes off for Nejc Pe?nik with the former having run his legs into the ground. It is a like for like swap though and Slovenia continue to press for a third goal despite being penned into their own half for some time.

There is an interesting thing about watching the Americans – generally recognised to be pretty much the world leaders in everything – play soccer. They are in the pack of nations – a good side at times – but they are stalked by an arrogance that seems to roll over from the fact that the nation always seems to have the winning World Series team to which has them cherishing their place in the football pecking order.

We are bit as good as Brazil they say, and we have to defend against England but anyone who is under us in those FIFA World Rankings we are going to beat. In theory it is not a bad idea by the practice of this mentality often sees them perform as they have thus far. Not beating the best, thinking they don’t have to do much to beat the other.

In the second half the realisation hit home – seemingly – that they had to afford Slovenia the same respect as England and so they come back into the game.

Herculez Gomez comes on for Onyewu – a striker for a defender – as the States chase an equaliser in the last ten minutes and the impressive Steve Cherundolo plays a long ball forward to Altidore who rises well and heads back to Bradley the son who – slicing though the lines – latches onto the ball and slams into the goal for a well earned equaliser.

The Slovenians struggle to get out of their own half – they hardly have for twenty minutes – and the Americans have the ball in the net after a Donovan free kick is slammed in by Edu but a Referee whistle for holding in the box disappoints the charging side.

The Europeans finally get out of their own half with the impressive right back Bre?ko breaking forward and setting up camp on the wing but the resulting cross is taken by Howard after a strong header by Pe?nik. Aleksander Radosavljevic belts a ball at goal that Howard saves. It is clear that these teams have stopped thinking about how to hit a Jubalini ball with power and pace and started hitting a Jubalini ball with power and pace.

The two teams clash like fighters piling into each other and Dempsey and Pecnik pole-axe each other. The last seconds tick away on a thumping game. A game of two halves one won by Solvenia, the other by the Americans and as Altidore argues with the referee over Edu’s disallowed goal the World Cup takes a breath after a storming encounter.

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