JOHANNESBURG — It’s crystal-ball time here at the World Cup Blog, so here are some predictions to chew over as we head toward the U.S.’s big opener on Saturday against England (ABC, Univisión, 2:30 p.m. ET):
HOW WILL THE U.S.’S GROUP C GAMES GO?
Game 1: England 1, U.S. 0. I expect the U.S. will play cautiously, staying compact as it usually does against top international teams. England will push to get the opening goal, but if that happens I still don’t expect the U.S. will open things up. A 1-0 loss to the group heavyweight wouldn’t be bad for the Yanks’ goal-differential.
Game 2: U.S. 2, Slovenia 1. In what should be the key group game for the Americans, I expect to see a more attack-minded lineup (think José Torres instead of Ricardo Clark) and a concerted effort to go ahead early and maintain the lead. Three points will be crucial here, and Bob Bradley’s team knows it.
Game 3: U.S. 2, Algeria 1. I suspect the Algerians will be eliminated by this point, but that hardly means it won’t be a dangerous game for the Americans. (Remember the U.S.-Poland game in 2002?) Getting a victory here could be crucial considering Slovenia may play against a less-than-full-strength England side in the other game, so look for a less-cautious U.S. tactical strategy—and, in the end, a second-place finish for the Americans in the group.
HOW FAR WILL THE U.S. ADVANCE?
Conventional wisdom says the Americans will finish second in Group C and meet Germany (the expected Group D winner) in the second round. But Group D is more unsettled than you might think considering its depth (Germany, Serbia, Ghana, Australia) and the injuries to stars Michael Essien (Ghana) and Michael Ballack (Germany). I think Serbia will win the group ahead of Germany and meet the U.S. in the Round of 16. It wouldn’t be an easy match-up for the U.S.; Serbia has an excellent back line (including Nemanja Vidic, Neven Subotic and Branislav Ivanovic) and a solid attack involving veteran Dejan Stankovic. Prediction: Serbia 2, U.S. 1.
WHO WILL BE THE U.S.’S BREAKOUT STAR?
Herculez Gómez is a great story: MLS reject surfaces in Mexico, wins the Golden Boot in the Mexican league and grabs a spot on the U.S. World Cup team after not even being involved in World Cup qualifying. Gómez has been in torrid form for several months now, and his confidence is sky-high. I think he’s going to bang a goal or two in and attract his share of global attention.
WHO WILL BE THE TOURNAMENT’S BEST PLAYER?
In my pre-tournament predictions in SI magazine I have Spain winning its first World Cup. If that happens, it will be in large part due to the passing mastery of Xavi, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves on the world stage but makes everyone better (see Lionel Messi at Barcelona).
As for how the tournament itself will pan out, Sports Illustrated and SI.com staffers made their predictions.
What do you think of these predictions? And what are yours? Feel free to post in the comments section below…