ESPN Analysts Breakdown 2010 FIFA World Cup Draw

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ESPN Analysts Breakdown 2010 FIFA World Cup Draw

ESPN soccer analysts John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, Steve McManaman and Efan Ekoku offer their perspectives world-cup-2010-logoon the 2010 FIFA World Cup Draw, which took place today at the Cape Town International Convention Center in South Africa, as all 32 teams were slotted into the eight groups (of four teams) for the 64-match tournament next summer (June 11-July 11, 2010) in South Africa: 


On the United States draw in next year’s tournament and on the England match on June 12 …

Harkes: “It’s a great challenge to play against one of the great teams in the world like England. This is a good opportunity for the U.S., to play that underdog role, and, with Algeria and Slovenia, those two teams are unknown. The U.S. have never faced them, so that becomes unpredictable. As a coach, you really need to do the research and scout them. I do think Group C has a good opportunity for the U.S. to advance out of the first round. 

“There are so many players who play there in England. They know these guys. They have a relationship, a banter, they talk everyday. It’s exciting. There’s a huge adrenaline rush when you play against any of the big teams from around the world, but to play against England with so many great players on that squad is going to be a good challenge. 

“The one thing about England, they’ve changed in the last 10-12 months and the reason for that is (Fabio) Capello. He’s a great orchestrator of building teams and not individuals. He’s brought the best out of them. They have a very good team.”


Lalas: “I was ecstatic. I think it’s a great group and the best group the U.S. has drawn in a World Cup. The opportunity the U.S. has to get out of the group is immense. England, of the seeded teams, would have been one of the teams I would have wanted to play, so that fell in nicely because I think the U.S. can not just give them a game but get points out of it. If it’s three points, that’s great. If it’s one point, that’s okay – it’s a great result in terms of having that first game. We know how important playing well in that first match is. When the U.S. gets a point out of that first game, history has shown they’ve gone through. With all respect to Slovenia and Algeria, these are teams that the U.S. should do well against and get points, and if they don’t, it will certainly be a disappointment, but ultimately a failure. 

“I have for many, many years fought this snobbery that exists about everything that happens over in the U.S. soccer-wise is second-rate and isn’t good enough. Well, here’s an opportunity for the U.S. and for guys like Landon Donovan to prove they have the ability to compete and to play well against what a lot of people perceive to be in England as a superior level of soccer and a superior level of football.”


On the U.S. facing Slovenia and Algeria …

Harkes: “It’s that unknown, that unpredictability that you get from these teams. One of the things that’s always been said about the African teams is how unpredictable they area. They’re strong, they’re powerful and they’ve got speed. So that’s something they have to be able to contend with. And with Slovenia, beating Russia at the end shows they have a little bit of grit and determination themselves, coming off that qualification with confidence.”


Lalas: “That England game is huge. It’s big and there will be a lot of focus but you qualify with your performance over the three games (in pool play). I do believe the U.S. will get points and should be favored in those games but making that transition from one game where you’re the underdog to the next games where you’re the favorite is not easy to do mid-tournament.”


An English perspective on Group C …

McManaman: “As an Englishman, I have to say we have to be fairly happy. It’s a draw that everybody will look up and think that we should qualify, and I think that’s all you can ask for. Looking at all the draws like the Brazilians, Portuguese and the Ivory Coast (in Group G), there lots of difficult games and one big team is unfortunately going to be left out, and when you look at ours and you’d be fairly confident that we should progress, I’d be very disappointed if England didn’t get through.”


On the keys to success for the U.S. side …

Harkes: “Good health. They have to have players who are fit. Losing Charlie Davies and Onyewu is going to be difficult for them to replace. It’s all about the preparation and they just have to let it unfold, but the U.S., they just have to continue to believe.”


On the toughest group …

Harkes: “Group G. I think Brazil and Ivory Coast get through. Ivory Coast have too many good players and they are coming off a high. Didier Drogba is very hard to stop.”

Lalas: “Group G. You have Kaka for Brazil, Didier Drogba for Ivory Coast and Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal – three of the biggest players in the world and one of them is going to go home with his team. I still see Brazil figuring it out, and I think Portugal is going to be the odd man out.”


On dark horse teams to watch …

Harkes: “I like Uruguay. A lot of people kind of overlook them coming out of COMNEBOL and South America. They have a little bit of a European kind of attitude mixed with their play, so it could favor them. I also like Ivory Coast. They have a very good side.”

Lalas: “Ivory Coast. If they get out of that ‘Group of Death’ – and I think they will, with the confidence they will have going through that and the players that they have, and their ability, I see them having a real legitimate shot of being the first African nation to win a World Cup.”

Ekoku: “Probably Ghana is the number one African team now. They will be the team likely to do well.”

McManaman: “We all hope for a dark horse. It’s the surprise that makes it interesting.”


On a potential tournament winner …

Lalas: “Germany. As we go to Africa and we celebrate this incredible creativity and free-wheeling type of style, the team that comes out and is clinical and regimented and structured the way a German team can be is going to win it. Plus, they’re going to be playing in a climate that completely suits them.”


On host nation South Africa …

Ekoku: “It’s not the strongest team we’ve seen. They’re in for a rough ride. South Africa has got lots of work to do. I don’t see them going very far.”  

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