By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Friday: The Twitterverse read like an obituary for American soccer during and immediately following halftime as the United States came out flat against Slovenia and suffered for it, going down early 2-0. But just minutes into the second half, Landon Donovan dismissed such notions with a beautiful individual effort to get the Yanks back into it. The American attack heightened as the half wore on, culminating in a sliding goal by Michael Bradley to complete the spirited comeback and tie the match. The 2-2 score would hold.
The draw was a thriller, but the bad taste in the collective American mouth spawns from a horrible (and frustratingly undefined) called foul that disallowed a Maurice Edu game-winner. Replays show nothing indicating a foul, but the call cost the United States the victory regardless. The Yanks, however, have only themselves to blame for how gut wrenching the call proved. The match showed what the US is capable of when firing on all cylinders, but it especially underscored how crucial it is that the team gets out to better starts. Look for more defensive intensity early on against Algeria on Wednesday.
Also Friday: Americans quickly shifted focus to England's tilt with Algeria and they got the result they wanted. England was unable to take control of the game and Algeria, like Slovenia earlier in the day, proved to be a threat by holding the Three Lions to a scoreless draw. Les Fennecs played surprisingly well defensively and were able to possess the ball and England just couldn't put together much in the way of opportunity. The Three Lions have put themselves in a tough spot, but they're still quite alive moving into the final stage of group play.
Serbia whetted our collective appetite, kicking off a big day of soccer by upsetting Germany 1-0. In a match perhaps too full of bookings, Die Mannschaft saw the worst of it, losing striker Miroslav Klose in the 37th minute after two cautions. Almost immediately, Liverpool's Milan Jovanovic collected the game's only goal from a beautiful Serbian set-up. The Serbs came through in a match they needed to win and Group D will see quite a final week as a result.
What it all means: Things still look pretty good for the Stars and Stripes. Group C is going to go down to the wire, so here's the deal: if the United States beats Algeria it will advance to the second round. It's a can't-lose match, but America has to look at it as a must-win; victory could give the team the group's top spot, and relying on a draw in the other match is not ideal. England finds itself in the same spot. It's possible that the Three Lions get away with a draw (if they score a few goals to break a tie with the United States), but a win would put the team right into the Round of 16. The US and England were supposed to breeze through Group C, but Algeria and Slovenia have hindered those plans. Still, strong showings from the two favored sides on Wednesday will send them both forth.
Group D is now anyone's for the taking. Australia and Ghana will dictate the entire landscape as the group's final matches approach, but Serbia's win today makes things very interesting. The result alerts the soccer world that the Serbs are still a threat after many dismissed the team following its disappointing loss on Sunday. Next Wednesday will mark the deciding matches in both Groups C and D and should make for a fantastic day of soccer.
What to watch on Saturday: Group D is undecided as is, but if Australia could win against Ghana, it would mean chaos. Under such circumstances, each team would enter the final set of matches locked at three points apiece. The Aussies will be without their best player Tim Cahill was sent off against Germany with a red card and their minus-four goal differential will need to be substantially improved on should the group come down to tiebreakers, but a victory tomorrow would put the all four teams in a win-and-in situation next week. If you don't want to see that...well, I guess you're probably Ghanaian, in which case that's totally reasonable.
Also Saturday: Japan and the Netherlands should put on a very entertaining match in the early morning. It will also go a long ways towards determining Group E, as the two teams currently sit atop its standings. A win for either side will give it a very clear advantage going into the final week of group play. Japan impressed in upsetting Cameroon last week, but containing Holland will be a tough task for the Blue Samurai.
Cameroon and Denmark will look to get back into the competition. Three points would undoubtedly be huge for either side regardless of how the early match goes. Samuel Eto'o said this week that he aims to be more central to the Cameroon attack than the Lions' game plan called for against Japan, so look to see the star and captain with the ball frequently.
Question of the Day: Will Harry Kewell play for Australia? The Socceroos are a defense-first type of squad but they must win Saturday's match if they want to stay even with the rest of the group. Goals, then, are in serious demand. Cahill's suspension leaves the team without its most consistent scoring threat. Kewell can provide offense even in advanced age and claims to be fully recovered from a groin injury, but the Aussie medical staff isn't so sure. If he does go, his presence will be a huge boost for a 'Roo squad that's been granted second life in the wake of Friday morning's madness.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Netherlands v Japan Durban Stadium, Durban 7:30 a.m.; Ghana v Australia Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 10:00 a.m.; Cameroon v Denmark Loftus Versfeld Stadium, TshwanePretoria 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: Our goal was to win, but it was still a situation where we couldn't lose ... at the end of the day a tie keeps us alive. - US coach Bob Bradley following his team's match against Slovenia.