This story appears in the June 14 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
The highly anticipated opener between the U.S. and England gets all the hype, but what happens after that is what really matters. If the two Group C favorites weather the ensuing threats posed by unpredictable Algeria and stingy Slovenia, the outcome of that June 12 tilt means nothing.
Don't expect the Brits and Yanks to coast, though. Slovenia, led by high-energy midfielder Robert Koren, beat a star-studded Russian team to qualify. Algeria either scores or concedes goals in bunches, depending on the day. And remember, the Americans have a habit of playing to their opponent's level. Bottom line? Both underdogs are capable of springing a surprise, especially if stars like Samir Handanovic (Slovenia) or Abdelkader Ghezzal (Algeria) rise to the occasion.
Yeah, yeah, we know: whatever. Fact is, all eyes will be on the battle between the Yanks and their former colonizer. The superior talent of Wayne Rooney & Co. might be too much for the Americans. Then again, U.S. keeper Tim Howard and a gaggle of his 'mates boast serious EPL cred. "Playing Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United week to week, it just feels like another big game," says U.S. striker Jozy Altidore, who repped Hull City this season but is nursing a questionable ankle as the opening round looms. "I'll definitely feel more comfortable playing England than Algeria or Slovenia." Sounds like bulletin board material for the Three Lions' locker room.