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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

World Cup draws U.S., England together first

Algeria and Slovenia are also in Group C in the first round of next year's tournament in South Africa.

December 05, 2009|By Grahame L. Jones

The world will no doubt be hearing a lot about Joseph Edouard Gaetjens in the coming 188 days.

He was the Haitian immigrant who scored the lone goal in one of international soccer's greatest upsets -- the United States' 1-0 victory over England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

Sixty years later, it will all come full circle.

On Friday, at a lavish ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa, the U.S. and England again were drawn to play each other on the global stage, this time on June 12 in Rustenburg, South Africa, on the second day of the 2010 World Cup.

This time around, it's David Beckham who leads the English challenge, albeit more off the field than on it.

What did he think of England being drawn into a first-round group that includes not only the U.S. but also Algeria and Slovenia?

"I think it's a very interesting group," Beckham said at the Cape Town ceremony that featured a disparate cast, including Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron of South Africa and distance running legend Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia. "They're all hard games when you reach the World Cup," Beckham said.

American Landon Donovan, Beckham's Galaxy teammate, was delighted by the England-U.S. pairing.

"I can't believe it," Donovan told reporters in New York. "You can't ask for a much better matchup than that. It should be fun."

All three U.S. matches in the first round will be at altitude, and advancing to the round of 16, when knockout play begins, is not guaranteed for Coach Bob Bradley's Americans.

"There could not be a bigger game for these players than to open up against England," Bradley said. "It will be interesting to come up against David Beckham. He has brought the spotlight on to the game in the United States and has been tremendous. I think he has helped our game grow."

The U.S. is 2-7-0 all-time against England but has never played Slovenia, which it will meet on June 18, or Algeria, which it plays on June 23. "We feel that this is a group that gives us a really fair chance to move on," Bradley said, presumably meaning to the second round rather than to the airport.

If the U.S. does advance, it would play either three-time world champion Germany, Australia, Ghana, which knocked it out of the 2006 World Cup, or Serbia.

Apart from the England-U.S. clash, another highlight of Friday's 32-team draw came when South Africa, the host nation, was drawn to play Mexico in the June 11 opening match in Johannesburg.

The outcome had Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre smiling.

"It's enormously exciting to open the World Cup," he said. "I hope that when that day arrives we are up to it."

Ever since the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, no host nation has failed to reach the second round.

But the South Africans, ranked a tournament-low 86th in the world, threaten to do just that.

Their Brazilian coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, tried to remain optimistic in the wake of a challenging draw. "We will make it," said Parreira, who coached Brazil to its 1994 World Cup triumph. "We need to have a win [over Mexico] to have that confidence."

Their group also includes Uruguay and France.

The French, who finished runner-up to Italy at the Germany '06 World Cup, will not be displeased with the draw even though FIFA snubbed the 1998 world champions by not making them one of the eight seeded teams.

"We would have to win at least two games to qualify," said France Coach Raymond Domenech.

"It's never easy to play against the host team, but it's our third game so by then we could be qualified."

The remark seemed to indicate that he takes Mexico lightly, which would be a mistake.

Mexico took Argentina to the wall in 2006 before succumbing in a second-round classic.

After opening against South Africa, Mexico plays France and Uruguay.

If Mexico advances, it would play either Argentina (in a rematch of 2006), Greece, Nigeria or South Korea.

Former champion Argentina -- whose main story in the coming months will be whether Diego Maradona is cast aside as coach -- is the favorite in the group.

Defending champion Italy should have little trouble navigating through a group that also features Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

"An opponent becomes difficult if you consider it easy," said Italy Coach Marcello Lippi, who coached the Azzurri to their 2006 World Cup triumph in Germany, when they defeated France in the final.

The draw's almost inevitable "group of death" pits tournament favorite Brazil against Portugal, the Ivory Coast and North Korea.

"Having a difficult group like this is good because we'll be focused," said Dunga, who was Brazil's World Cup-winning captain in 1994 and is now its coach. "Every time Brazil takes the field we're expected to win."

The Netherlands, ranked third in the world and unbeaten in qualifying for South Africa 2010, will be heavily favored to make it into the final 16 against first-round opposition from Denmark, Japan and Cameroon.

Similarly, European champion Spain, whose only loss in its last 44 games was to the U.S. in the Confederations Cup in June, should breeze through a group in which the main challenger is Chile, with Switzerland and Honduras destined to be also-rans.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

From A to H

A list of the groups drawn for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. C5

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