At World Cup, U.S. soccer has one goal against Algeria: win

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -- The United States could extend its stay at the 2010 World Cup on Wednesday by prevailing in a tiebreaker system or -- through a last, desperate avenue that hasn't been implemented by FIFA in 20 years -- have its name drawn from a bowl one hour after its final first-round match.

But if the Americans want to make it easy on themselves, if they'd like to avoid the dizzying permutations and postgame anxiety, there is a simpler, unequivocal and decisive route to the round of 16: defeat Algeria.

"Our objective is very clear: It's win the game and take all the other stuff out of the question," midfielder Landon Donovan said.

A victory by the Americans (0-0-2, two points) at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria would ensure a top-two finish in Group C and a berth in this weekend's second stage. A draw might also do the trick, depending on the outcome of the match between Slovenia (1-0-1, four points) and England (0-0-2, two), who face one another at the same time (10 a.m. Eastern time) in Port Elizabeth.

The United States has the advantage on England because it has scored more goals (3-1), which is the second tiebreaker after goal differential. However, if both teams settle for ties and England pulls even on total goals, FIFA would have to draw lots, a procedure last used in 1990 to settle Ireland and the Netherlands' placement in the second round.

With a loss to Algeria (0-1-1, one point), the Americans are headed home after three matches, just like four years ago in Germany.

"It's important for us because we had that disappointment in '06," captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "It's not really extra motivation, but it's just in the back of our minds. You work so hard and you train for so long for the World Cup, and it can be over so quickly."

Historically, the Americans have not fared well in their first-round finales. In 1994, they advanced to the round of 16 despite a 1-0 loss to Romania. In 2002, while losing to out-of-contention Poland 3-1, they received help in the other group match to move on and eventually reach the quarterfinals -- their best performance in the modern era.

In 2006, needing to defeat Ghana to continue, the United States dropped a 2-1 decision.

Overall, in the third game of their World Cup campaigns, the Americans are 0-7-0 and have been outscored 20-6.

The players, though, see a difference in this year's squad, a maturity and perseverance that surfaced during a stirring two-goal comeback in the second half of a 2-2 draw with Slovenia last Friday.

"In the two [previous] World Cups I have been a part of, we haven't strung together three consecutive good results and good performances," Donovan said. "This team has the experience and ability to do that. We are as prepared as we can be for what is ahead."

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