England

Location: The island of Great Britain off the west coast of Europe, south of Scotland, east of Wales. (51.30N 0.7W)

Prior Appearances: 13 (1950-70, 1982-90, 1998-2006)

Best Performance: Champions – 1966 as hosts

Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Group 6 (W 9 D 0 L 1) – beating Ukraine & Croatia

Players to watch:

Rio Ferdinand (DF – Manchester United, English Premier League)

After the scandal involving John Terry earlier this year which stripped him of the captaincy of England, it will be Rio Ferdinand that assumes this role. A solid defender, if sometimes a bit of a hot head, Ferdinand’s marshalling of the defence will go a long way to deciding if England can go the distance.

Wayne Rooney (ST – Manchester United, English Premier League)

Much like 2006, Wayne Rooney has spent part of the crucial stage of the season injured. Unlike 2006 he’s actually been able to play in the lead up to the world cup, this is good news for England as a fit Wayne Rooney will do wonders for their attack. Rooney won the PFA Players Player of the Year award this year and will need to be producing all his form. It’s hard to believe at times, that Rooney is only 24, he’s achieved so much, and no doubt would like to add a World Cup to that.

Prediction: Most expect England to walk through this group, indeed the biggest issue facing England is a lack of motivation, if they take any game lightly they could end up going home, there’s always one huge upset and I could see it being England. However, it would seem England’s biggest worry is the second round, where they’ll face Germany or a fired up Australian side who would love to get one up on the English, if they can get through that, they could do anything. (Second Round/Semi-Final)

United States of America

Location: Right Here! North of Mexico, South of Canada (with outlying states), bordered by the Pacific & Atlantic Oceans. (38.53N 77.01W)

Prior Appearances: Eight (1930-34, 1950, 1990-2006)

Best Performance: Third Place – 1930 (Lost Semi-final to Argentina, tied for 3rd with Yugoslavia)

Qualification: CONCACAF (North & Central America) 1st place (W 6 D 2 L 2)

Players to watch:

Clint Dempsey (MF – Fulham, English Premier League)

The US team has had a number of players suffer injury in the lead up to the world cup and Dempsey was one of these. Dempsey was able to make a dramatic comeback in March and score a wonder goal to send Fulham through to the quarter finals of the Europa League. He has been rated as the MVP for Americans in Europe and became the first American to play in a major European final. He will need to bring all his good form if the USA are to do well in this tournament.

Edson Buddle (ST – Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer)

This may be a very unlikely choice, however Buddle has been absolutely on fire for LA and a major part of why they’re doing so well. He faces stiff competition for a starting spot, but with many of his counterparts struggling with injury Buddle has a great chance, look for him to be an impact player for the USA.

Prediction: The draw has certainly been kind to the United States, and the opener against the English is a HUGE clash, the Americans will want to win that more than anything else and have a huge chance of upsetting the English. On the back of a successful Confederations Cup in 2009 (followed by a poor Gold Cup) the USA will feel pretty confident heading to South Africa. Again the issue for the US is the second round, where they’re likely to face Germany the USA can certainly do it though, and if they get past that the sky’s the limit. (Second Round/Semi-Final)

Algeria

Location: In Africa, bordered by Tunisa (NE), Libya (E), Morocco (W), Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali (SW), Niger (SE) & the Mediterranean Sea (N) (38.42N 3.13E)

Prior Appearances: Two (1982-1986)

Best Performance: Group Stages 1986 (W 2 D 0 L 1)

Qualification: CAF (Africa) tied with Egypt in Group C with perfectly identical records (W 4 D 1 L 1 GF 9 GA 4), defeated Egypt in a play off.

Players to watch:

Madjid Bougherra (DF-Rangers FC, Scottish Premier League)

Bougherra has been a signigicantmember of the Rangers side since 2008, proving to be a rock in defence, replacing the impressive Cuellar with aplomb. Bougherra will need to be at his best in a group that could well be decided on how few goals are conceded by each time. Bougherra also has a knack of scoring goals when needed, scoring against Stuttgart in the Champions League this season and winning the PFA Scottish Goal of the Season for his effort against Dundee United. A goal scoring defender is an important asset to have at any tournament, but especially this one.

Hassan Yebda (MF-Portsmouth, English Premier League – on loan from Benfica, Portugese Liga)

Yebda, like many of the Algerians has his training in France, even playing for France at Youth Level. Yebday joined Portsmouth on loan this season and had a fairly successful stint at the club, helping them through to the FA Cup final, he’ll need to be at his best here but he seems to thrive under pressure.

Prediction: It’s a difficult group for Algeria, this may be an African World Cup, but South Africa is about as far away as you can get from Algeria without leaving the continent. They won’t struggle with the conditions, but I struggle to see a genuine match winner in this side. They’ve definitely got a chance but it’ll be tough. (Group Stage)

Slovenia

Location: Central Europe, bordered by the alps & the Mediterranean. Bordered by Italy (W), Adriatic Sea (SW), Croatia (S & E), Hungary (NE) & Austria (N)

Prior Appearances: One (2002)

Best Performance: Group Stages 2002 (W 0 D 0 L 3)

Qualification: UEFA (Europe) 2nd in their group behind Slovakia & ahead of the Czech Republic (W 6 D 2 L 2) defeated Russia on a play-off on away goals after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

Players to watch:

Samir Handanovic (GK – Udinese, Italian Serie A)

Handanovic has been immense in the goals for Udinese this season, proving himself to be one of the better goal keepers in the Serie A. With the Slovenian goal bound to be peppered during this tournament, he’ll need to be at his absolute best in South Africa.

Nejc Pecnik (ST – Nacional, Portugese Liga)

At the other end of the park we have Pecnik. While the youngster has barely played for Slovenia (he played a total of 92 minutes in the qualifying campaign), he has an uncanny ability to score goals when he has to, scoring the two crucial goals that put Slovenia into the World Cup.

Prediction: Slovenia are seen as the weaker of the European teams, and they will struggle, but if they can acquit themselves well, anything can happen in a tight group (Group Stages)

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