Slovenia is the great unknown, even more than Algeria. Most in the world have never seen this country - the smallest to have ever qualified for this tournament twice - play, though their results over the last two years have been impressive.
But beyond impressive, they're a pain to play. No team plays harder in defense. No team is better organized. No team is more opportunistic, even if their lack of top-shelf attacking talent sometimes belies their threat.
I think you see where this is going.
From the editor's desk of SB Nation, Soccer, a brief preview of Group C:
England versus United States, 6/12, Rustenberg
The last time England had to rise to such an occasion, they throttled Croatia.
The Croats seemed to have the English's number, knocking them out of Euro 2008 qualifying and bringing on the change that put Fabio Capello in the trainer's chair. Capello's value was immediately apparent, leading England to six points and an 8:2 goal ratio in two World Cup qualifiers against Croatia.
Why is this relevant? The United States is not Croatia. Stylistically and historically, they're far from it.
It's relevant because England has the superior talent, and many times when there is a gap in talent, the first thing that needs to be assessed is whether the favored team is of the mindset to limit the opposition's opportunities.
England seems to have reached that level, and considering the match-up advantages England has - specifically, Wayne Rooney against a hobbling and leaking U.S. defense - England looks like the bet.
Expect goals, though. England has their own problems at the back. Rooney will score early, but expect Carlos Bocanegra to take advantage of some weak set-piece defending Then, expect Rooney to score again before a late goal by Steven Gerrard puts the match away: England 3, United States 1
Slovenia versus Algeria, 6/13, Polokwane
Slovenia is considered a defense-only, scrappy-but-little-talent team, something the numbers and resumés do not bare out.
Slovenia was undefeated in UEFA World Cup qualifying. They eliminate a talented Russia side in the UEFA playoff after defeating Slovakia twice in group play. They posted an 18:4 goal ration in their qualifying group, the goals allowed the lowest amongst European teams playing in six team qualifying groups.
Look at Slovenia's team sheet, and you see players in leagues all over Europe. This is not a team that's relying on Slovenia-based players. They have players playing regularly in Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece amongst other nations.
Algeria has similar, if not superior talent, but without an approach or the creativity to break down the disciplined Slovenes, this one will be difficult for the Desert Foxes. You wonder how Slovenia will score on them, yet the Slovenes have had no trouble scoring over the last two years. Expect a Slovenia 2, Algeria 1 result here.
United States versus Slovenia, 6/18, Johannesburg (Ellis Park)
This is a bad match-up for a superiorly talented U.S. team. More than superior talented, I believe the United States to be the superior side over a large sample size, but against Slovenia, the match-ups are not kind. Can the United States's talent break down a defense that defends as well and as organized as Slovenia? Can they stay away from the defensive mistakes Slovenia can adroitly exploit?
More often than not, no, but this is a difficult match to call. Were it played ten times, you'd have four wins for one country, three for the other and three draws. Slovenia is too well drilled, and for a United States that so often gets by on guile and heart, they meet a mental match that's slightly more tactically sound
The country that gets the fourth win in tne is Slovenia. With both teams more comfortable countering, this is a slow affair, but Slovenia crafts its goal for a Slovenia 1, United States 0 result. Milivoje Novakovič gets the winner.
England versus Algeria, 6/18, Cape Town
Adding to all of the advantages that England has is rumored dissension within the Algeria camp, with captain Yazid Mantsouri close to leaving the team earlier this week.
For all the reasons that Slovenia beats Algeria, England really beats Algeria. England can score goals, and against an Algeria defense that has shown signs of allowing them in bunches, England confirms advancing to the second round: England 4, Algeria 0.
England versus Slovenia, 6/23, Port Elizabeth
Both teams are confirmed into the second round, and while that could be looked at as Slovenia have nothing to lose (being behind on goal difference coming into the match), expect pragmatic coaches to think injuries first: England 0, Slovenia 0 - must sleep TV.
United States versus Algeria, 6/23, Pretoria
Earlier this week I was predicting a draw in this match as a broken-hearted U.S. faced an Algeria team that would be using political and cultural motivations to conjure the spirits on Iran in 1998. But then I remembered the special circumstances surrounding that World Cup for the U.S., and we found out about the dissension in the Algeria camp. Now, I see the United States winning: United States 3, Algeria 1, whereas before I was saying 1-1.
Final Group Standings
England - 7 points
Slovenia - 7 points
United States - 3 points
Algeria - 0 points