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England hope to avoid US repeat

England go into their 13th FIFA World Cup™ as not just Group C's main attraction but as overwhelming favourites to finish top. Yet they may not have things their own way. The USA have upset England before and they will be hopeful of making progress – the Americans have a depth of quality and experience that puts them in a different league from the college kids who travelled to Italia 90 with the Stars 'n' Stripes two decades ago. Slovenia, making their second FIFA World Cup appearance, and Algeria, their third, complete the section – but will be determined to do much more than make up the numbers.

The favourites
England: The Three Lions have never won the FIFA World Cup on foreign soil but travel to South Africa believing the adventure will go beyond the quarter-finals this time. Confidence is high after an impressive qualifying campaign from Fabio Capello's side who finished as 34-goal top scorers in the European Zone, winning nine of ten matches. Wayne Rooney hit nine goals and can have a galvanising effect – indeed, while his World Cup bow four years ago ended with a red card against Portugal the same thing happened to Diego Maradona and look how he responded. Add the Capello factor – the Italian has brought discipline and focus – and England will expect to win this group and prosper.

USA: The United States contest their sixth successive finals and will fancy their chances of advancing from the group stage for the first time since their quarter-final run in 2002. Bob Bradley's team can also take heart from their efforts at the FIFA Confederations Cup on South African soil in 2009 – they stunned Spain in the semi-finals and led Brazil 2-0 in the final before succumbing 3-2. They will hope centre-back Oguchi Onyewu will have recovered from his knee injury in time to join a squad that will again look to Landon Donovan for attacking inspiration in his third FIFA World Cup.

The outsiders
Algeria: The North Africans are back on the world stage after a 24-year absence following their play-off victory over Egypt. Rabah Saadane's side – who had eliminated Senegal in the second African qualifying round – boast top-level European experience in their ranks, including midfielder Karim Ziani at German champions Wolfsburg and pacy left-back Nadir Belhadj at English club Portsmouth. Antar Yahia, the match-winner against Egypt, will face Bochum colleague Zlatko Dedic in an opening match against Slovenia in Polokwane that both countries will consider their best chance of three points.

Slovenia: Matjaz Kek's team were surprise play-off winners over Russia, Dedic's second-leg strike earning them victory on away goals after a 2-1 reverse in Moscow. Their first major tournaments as an independent nation came at UEFA EURO 2000 and Korea/Japan 2002 but their current squad lacks that know-how, though captain Robert Koren needs no introduction to England as he plays his football at West Bromwich Albion. Their main attacking threat is Milivoje Novakovic, based in Germany with FC Cologne, who hit five goals as they finished second behind Slovakia in their qualifying group.

The players to watch
Wayne Rooney (ENG), Frank Lampard (ENG), Landon Donovan (USA), Tim Howard (USA), Karim Ziani (ALG), Robert Koren (SVN).

The crunch match
England-USA: England will aim to stamp their authority on the group in what, on paper, looks their trickiest test in the pool opener in Rustenburg on 12 June. The countries' historical and cultural ties will make it eagerly anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic.

A look back
England-USA, 29 June 1950: In their first tournament England suffered their biggest upset on the world stage when Joe Gaetjens' first-half goal earned a ragtag American team a 1-0 victory in Belo Horizonte. One newspaper in Britain assumed the 0-1 score had to be wrong and printed that England had won 10-1.

Did you know?
Algeria have never met England but held Northern Ireland 1-1 when facing another British team at Mexico 1986.

The stat
10
– England have negotiated the group stage successfully on their last ten FIFA World Cup appearances.

The question
At first glance, England and USA look strong favourites to advance but could Algeria or Slovenia spring a surprise? Both did so in their qualifying play-offs but repeating it in South Africa may prove difficult. Click 'Add your comment' to make your opinion known.

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