One thing I was always sure about is that this USA team, built by coach Bob Bradley, is a competitive, hardworking and serious side, one which can always spring a surprise, and they truly have done a lot of that already (miraculous progression to the semi-finals at the Confederations Cup, win over Spain, half-time lead over Brazil, last weekend's draw with England). I always held this team, who was the only one to beat Spain under Del Bosque (Switzerland have joined them now), in high esteem and knew that we will be having some tough game when we were drawn together. The fact that they drew with England makes everything even tougher. I was kind of hoping for an England win, but now the USA already have a precious point which we may not get in our final game.
So USA are the favourites, and are two points behind us in the Group C ranking. This in itself promises an interesting match, one in which USA will have to attack, one thing that we haven't seen much from them so far (even if you count the Confederations Cup). That's because they have always been the underdogs, keeping a stern defence, while hitting back through brilliant counter attacks, which saw Spain and almost Brazil off. They won't be able to do that now and almost surely won't. Because that's what Slovenia will do.
I have read some articles from English journalists writing we are a side that are comfortable to sit back and defend while scoring from more or less fortunate rare attacks. I would disagree because this is exactly the style we try not to play. We cannot sit back and wait because then we most likely concede a goal and score none (see also match Northern Ireland - Slovenia). And we didn't (deliberately or non-deliberately) wait against Algeria. We were trying to create something, but it didn't go well for us, and the exactly same goes for Algeria. Yes, we have a great defence, but that's not a result of playing in closed style. Maybe the team will surprise me on match day and show that it's capable of playing this way, and I actually do hope so.
Because we play our best football when we have a lot of ball in our possession (completely logical, actually). The best we have seen of USA was when they did not have the ball. So, in a way, both teams will have to play in a way they are not comfortable with. But I admit the USA have players of better quality, they have more experience, and have so far showed better football than us.
Speaking of players of better quality, Slovenia will have to limit the effect of Landon Donovan, otherwise Handanovič will be somewhat busy. Donovan is a player who is excellent at passing, dead ball (those virtues were seen against England) and shooting as well (I hope we won't see any of that now). Slovenia have in recent past kept such special players very well quiet (for example Arshavin), but USA aren't exactly dependent of him. There are other good players as well, such as Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore.
As for our players, no-one is injured, and Kek will probably field the same XI than the previous time (it's also posted in the blog Preview: Algeria - Slovenia). The players said that they shall go for the win (remember, if we win, we qualify automatically for the Round of 16, no matter how the other results turn up). But they will have to play better than against Algeria to get anything from this match. The catch is that even if we draw our remaining two matches (which would be a massive and heroic achievement already) we will unlikely proceed to knock-out stages without any help from Algeria (I wouldn't count too much on that). So a win is needed, for USA are still an easier match than the "almighty" England.
How will USA do in a match they have to attack in and win? Will Slovenia cope with pressure better this time? Who shall be happier in the end: Howard or Handanovič, Bocanegra or Cesar, Donovan or Koren, Altidore or Novakovič? And finally, Bradley or Kek?
June 18, 2010 ........ 16:00 CET / 15:00 BST
Johannesburg (Ellis Park Stadium)
Slovenia - USA
Prediction: USA have more chance to win, much will depend on how will we actually perform (and better our showing from the one against Algeria).