What: US vs. England, Group C, match 1
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
TV: ABC, Univisión
Buy: World Cup Gear
The Battle Royale is finally here. In 1950, the US pulled off perhaps the greatest upset in American history with a 1-0 over heavily favored England in Brazil. Sixty years later, the stage is set for an encore.
The US open their sixth straight World Cup appearance with a hugely hyped matchup against the Three Lions. Given the unprecedented buildup back home, the ruthless marketing and the magnitude of the matchup, this may be the biggest game in US history. And both teams are ready.
US fans are cautiously optimistic their team can stay in the game against Fabio Capello’s wrecking crew and maybe even log a titanic upset, a la Portugal in 2002, or Spain in last summer’s Confederations Cup. Meanwhile, England is also cautiously optimistic – of perhaps their best team in 20 years and real legitimate shot of finally advancing past the quarterfinals … and much further.
It’s a dream matchup for an American side with high hopes, but again, given the magnitude of the game, there’s enormous pressure on the U.S. to show well for themselves against the world’s No. 8-ranked team.
WATCH: USA TEAM PROFILE
“It's a lot of pressure,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard, “but it's also pretty cool to see how far we've come."
But the big question is, which US team will all those millions of viewers back home see? One that will go conservative against a powerful foe and play for the tie? Or one that will actually take a chance and go at England’s horses?
The personnel on hand may decide that one, and certain elements of Bob Bradley’s lineup are still a secret. Is Oguchi Onyewu’s knee strong enough to let him go 90 minutes? Who will pair with Michael Bradley in the central midfield? Who will line up with Jozy Altidore up top?
Regardless, everyone on the pitch will have to bring his A game to compete with a top-drawer opponent.
From Day 1, Capello has brought a level of discipline to a notoriously loose England set-up – this team is prepared, and it will take a concerted effort to catch them napping. The Italian manager has also instilled in his men a confidence that they won’t lose their composure at key moments, a weakness that has plagued them in recent World Cups.
WATCH: ENGLAND TEAM PROFILE
But despite the top-to-bottom quality, there are as many question marks as there are in US camp. Are England too reliant on Wayne Rooney? What happens if he suffers one of his notorious meltdowns and faces the wrath of head referee Carlos Simon?
Can Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard continue their newly discovered co-existence in this, the biggest show? Will James Milner be effective enough at holding mid in the absence of Gareth Barry? Can John Terry step up and be the captain-like figure he once was, especially in the absence of Rio Ferdinand?
This team certainly has weaknesses – should the US choose to exploit them.
United States: Clint Dempsey. Deuce has become a smash success in England with his timely scoring and reckless abandon for Fulham. The US have no greater wild card, and Dempsey has the experience against English opponents to slip behind the defense and produce a highlight-reel moment.
England: Wayne Rooney. The Three Lions’ most powerful weapon and close to a one-man wrecking crew. The hotheaded striker let the side with nine goals in qualifying while totaling 26 strikes for Manchester United this past season. His ability to create has improved every game – he’ll be a handful for US defenders.
"The stage is set for him to deliver because he can be England's main man and he can shoot us to glory,” midfielder Steven Gerrard told reporters, “and the players around him make sure he's aware of it."
The simple fact is that the US don’t need a result in this game. And while our hearts tell us they’re capable of beating anyone, our guts tell us England is focused, ready and unwilling to fall upset. The Americans will show well for themselves – which may be enough for the throngs watching back home – but may come up just short.