- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 5, 2009

The U.S. team couldn’t have asked for a better draw for the opening round of the World Cup.

The Americans clearly have a good chance of advancing from Group C, which includes England, Algeria and Slovenia, and of reaching the final 16, which they failed to do in 2006. While England coasted to its best qualifying record ever and is the favorite to win Group C, Algeria and Slovenia had to go the circuitous playoff route to make the cut. Meantime, the 14th-ranked U.S. team won its World Cup qualifying group and has the experience and talent to earn a result against Slovenia (No. 33) and Algeria (No. 28).

England coach Fabio Capello acknowledged he is familiar with a number of American players who have played in the Premier League. Conversely, he pointed out that because they have played in England’s top league, they must not be underestimated. And while England is the U.S. team’s toughest opponent, the Three Lions currently lack a solid goalie and central defender. American ace Landon Donovan will look to exploit that.

Geographically, this is a great draw for the U.S. team and U.S. fans. All three opening-round games will be played at venues within two hours’ driving distance from South Africa’s wealthiest city, Johannesburg, and the Americans already have had experience playing at these stadiums in last summer’s Confederation Cup.

Here’s a closer look at Friday’s draw:

The Group of Death - Group G: Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea.

The Group of Near Death - Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana.

The luckiest - The unseeded French, who advanced to the World Cup on a controversial goal assisted by Thierry Henry’s hand, get drawn with South Africa, the weakest top seed.

Worst luck - Ivory Coast, a team with great talent, gets thrown in with five-time winners Brazil and fifth-ranked Portugal, led by world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo.

Whipping boy - North Korea, in its first time in the World Cup since 1966, gets placed in the Group of Death.

The rematch - Galaxy teammates David Beckham and Landon Donovan, who patched up after Donovan trashed the Englishman in a book, look to face each other on the pitch.

Happiest guy - Beckham. His knowledge of American players from his three years in MLS is another reason Capello should put him on England’s roster.

War at home - As a transplanted Brit, this was not the draw I wanted. Come June 12, when the U.S. team faces England in its opening game in Rustenburg, there will be divided loyalties in my house. My dog and I will be rooting for England - sorry, I can’t get it out my blood. The other five members of my family will be screaming for the red, white and blue. Let’s hope both teams advance.

Now for the predictions on who will reach the round of 16:

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

Mexico and France.

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

Argentina and Nigeria.

Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia

Put your money on England and the U.S. team.

Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana

Germany and Serbia, but don’t count out Ghana.

Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon

The Netherlands and Cameroon.

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

Italy and Slovakia.

Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal

Brazil and Portugal, but Ivory Coast will not go down easily.

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Spain, with Chile and Switzerland fighting for the second spot.

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