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The World Cup: How the U.S. Can Beat England

U.S. national soccer midfielder Landon Donovan holds up his fist during training at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, June 10, 2010.
U.S. national soccer midfielder Landon Donovan holds up his fist during training at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, June 10, 2010.

It was the slightly less famous Dallas tragedy.

The U.S. team was playing Germany in the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals. Germany was a team on the wane. Just like the euro.

The U.S.'s Gregg Berhalter shot. Germany's Torsten Frings flung out an arm on the goal line. A penalty as clear as Bernie Madoff's subterfuge.

Special Section: 2010 World Cup

The Scottish referee, Hugh Dallas, offered an indifference as great as that of a cat espying a Vermeer. Germany won 1-0.

Had the U.S. reached the semi-finals, as it undoubtedly deserved to, it would have played the host South Korea. U.S. soccer would have made at least one exponential stride forward.

Instead, at every World Cup, hope battles expectation to see which can go the distance.

That the U.S. begins its quest on Saturday for greater soccer credibility against England offers much juice. But it doesn't necessarily constitute the main course.

The first round of the Cup is a group stage, where the art form remains the ability to avoid losing players and games. Two teams advance from each group of four. Secure four points and you have a good chance. Secure six and you're through to the knockout stage.

Group C looks relatively untroubling. As well as England, the U.S. plays Slovenia and Algeria, more Clippers than Lakers when it comes to world soccer.

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So a conservative -- in soccer terms, read "Italian" - strategist would be looking for a draw against England and then maximum points in the other two games.

However, perhaps the U.S. doesn't need to be so conservative against England.

The World Cup is almost always a troubling experience for the English. They suffer from greater expectations than the first offspring of a rock star and an astronaut.

The English feel sure they should win. They often say it is their time. They have the most compelling league in the world, after all.

But the reality is that England's one lone triumph was in 1966. Yes, the last time North Korea qualified.

Whisper this everywhere but in an English theme pub: the English aren't very bright. The country's World Cup performances have often featured an almost charming inability to adjust to sophisticated tactics and an almost tragic inability to take a penalty under pressure.

The players' blind faith in their English coaches, but slight dearth of smarts was quite lovingly chronicled by the fine Italian player, Gianluca Vialli in his wonderful book, The Italian Job.

For too long, English soccer was all about hoofing the ball high and the man higher. But when teams of greater guile and technical skill came along, England was baffled. Too many of the players had neither the technique, nor the brains.

The remedy, at the league level, was to bring in foreign players who actually knew how to trap the ball and dribble with it. The European Community's employment laws and helpful English tax rates meant that many great foreign stars have played in the English Premier League's recent times.

At the national level, England spent vast amounts of money hiring foreign coaches. First came Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Swede who, despite (or perhaps because of) a rather colorful private life, often appeared to be on the verge of sleep.

Now, England is in the hands of the highly pragmatic Italian Fabio Capello.

Capello can be as expressive as any of the presidents on Mount Rushmore. However, when he blows, the players discover new hair partings.

While England depends for so much of its creativity on Wayne Rooney, the kind of bull that has the skill to evade the most wily of toreros, defensively there are vast frailties.

You wouldn't trust any of England's goalkeepers to always catch someone falling from the second floor of a burning building. The full backs are fond of attacking and no quite so fond of, well, the defending part.

And with England captain Rio Ferdinand out of the competition, the central defense must rely on John Terry and someone else. It could be Ledley King. Or perhaps Jamie Carragher. Or perhaps Matthew Upson. None strikes fear in strikers.

In recent World Cups, the U.S. has always had one consistency. Unlike any number of Dream Teams, U.S. World Cup teams are always that. Teams.

The U.S. can attack the English and feel confident of a result. It isn't merely that players such as Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have considerable Premier League experience.

It's that they know how vulnerable England can be. And how tired. The likes of Manchester United's Rooney, Chelsea's Frank Lampard and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard have enjoyed grueling seasons. All are very probably carrying some kind of injury.

If you think this skepticism might be unfounded, please consider that a survey of Premier League managers (many of the best are not English) produced a grand total of zero who believed that England would win the World Cup. (Brazil, Spain and Argentina were the three top answers.)

Though this game is just one in the group phase, perhaps no one has greater motivation than U.S. midfielder, Stuart Holden.

Another who plays regularly in the English Premier League (for Bolton), Holden says he feels he will represent both the U.S. for which he now plays and the Scotland of his birth.

The Scots, you see, generally prefer death to the English.

They sell commemorative t-shirts that say "A.B.E". Anyone But England. They remember the Battle of Bannockburn from the 14th century in which they defeated the English 700 to 2 (deaths, that is) and secured independence.

One can only assume that the poor, confused Scottish referee eight years ago somehow mistook the American team for the English. One should definitely assume that the U.S. has every chance of at least holding its own on Saturday.

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.