CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Friday, June 11, 2010
The United States embarks upon its ninth appearance in the World Cup finals on Saturday with a highly-anticipated rematch against England that has been 60 years in the making.
The build-up and hype surrounding one of the marquee match-ups of the opening group stage accompany the players to Rustenburg, as Bob Bradley's men return to the site of their pivotal 3-0 triumph over Egypt in last year's Confederations Cup that propelled them to an epic defeat of Spain in the semifinals.
Saturday evening's game in Royal Bafokeng Stadium, at 45,000 the lowest seating capacity of the World Cup venues, will see a healthy and confident US squad battle an English team that has overcome injury setbacks, utilized its depth and adapted to a new direction and formation under the leadership of coach Fabio Capello.
With Jozy Altidore's return to full training this week after a minor ankle injury, coach Bradley has a full squad at his disposal and ample options for his starting lineup.
The Villarreal striker could get the nod for the opening whistle, despite missing last Saturday's 3-1 win over Australia, given his experience and poise in performing in big games.
Otherwise, Bradley will return to the MLS-based duo of Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley that tested and ousted the Australian defense with an effective combination of speed and finishing.
With Premier League experience under their belts, both Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan can expect to resume their positions on the wings, while the holding midfielders Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark will likely see a start, in spite of positive performances from Maurice Edu and Jose Francisco Torres in recent friendlies.
The US backline will rely on the veteran leadership of captain Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, who helped Hannover 96 avoid relegation from the Bundesliga with stellar play over the final few weeks of the season.
Oguchi Onyewu and Watford's Jay DeMerit will likely anchor the central defense in front of Tim Howard between the posts.
Fabio Capello's crew has undergone a period of transformation following the loss of captain Rio Ferdinand to injury and the absence of midfielder Gareth Barry, who has still not fully recovered from an ankle injury.
Doubts remain about who will pair up top with Wayne Rooney, either Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch. The midfield will likely feature Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon on the wings, and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in a central midfield pairing that has not always worked to England's advantage.
Ashley Cole, John Terry and Ledley King can expect to be in the starting eleven, while Glen Johnson looks to be Capello's choice for right back.
The 39-year-old David James will hope to mind the net for the second time in a World Cup, however a back injury may force Capello to go with Robert Green or Joe Hart.
England hold a 7-0-2 all-time record against the Americans, the last victory coming two years ago in a 2-0 game at Wembley Stadium.
Other than the 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup that saw Joe Gaetjens' goal stun the soccer world, the US upended an England squad in a 1993 friendly in Foxboro, Massachusetts with a 2-0 scoreline.