IRENE, South Africa - Landon Donovan thinks the best is yet to come for the U.S. soccer team.
Yes, 2006 was a disappointment and even the quarterfinal finish in 2002 wasn’t completely satisfying.
“The two World Cups I’d been a part of, we hadn’t strung together three consecutive good results and good performances,” he said Monday. “I think this team has the experience and the ability to do that, and we’ll find out on Wednesday night.”
By beating Algeria, the Americans would advance from the group phase for the first time since 2002. Even with a draw against the Desert Foxes, the U.S. could advance as long as England fails to beat Slovenia and doesn’t wipe out the Americans’ two-goal advantage in goals scored.
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Algeria, coming off a 1-0 loss to Slovenia and a 0-0 tie with the English, can advance only with a victory. That likely means wide-open play.
“Their approach to the game would likely be an aggressive approach to try to get a goal and win the game,” Donovan said. “A lot of our guys play with or have played with or against their players. As a team, collectively, they can be unpredictable and on their day they are a very, very good team.”
On the first day of winter in South Africa, the U.S. held its last practice at Pilditch Stadium before the match. Because FIFA wants to preserve the field at Loftus Versfeld, the site of the match, today’s practice is in Pretoria.
In many ways, the Americans know Algeria much better than Slovenia.
Center back Madjid Bougherra is a teammate of DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu on the Glasgow Rangers; midfielder Karim Matmour plays alongside Michael Bradley on Borussia Moenchengladbach; midfielder Adlene Guedioura plays on Wolverhampton with Marcus Hahnemann; midfielder Ryad Boudebouz is at Sochaux with injured American forward Charlie Davies; and defender Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Hassan Yebda played for Portsmouth last season, where they regularly faced the U.S. Premier League contingent.
“They have a lot of guys who are skillful on the ball and who like to get the ball in dangerous areas and run by guys or be creative in their own way and get shots,” Bradley said. “Certainly Karim is good at that – his ability to use his speed to run by defenders and to get shots and crosses. I know that well. I play with him every week. So that’s something that we need to keep an eye on. But when you look at their whole team, they have a lot of different threats.”
With both teams facing elimination, it figures to be a fiercely fought game.
“Today’s football is very physical. Skill is just for the final meters,” Matmour said. “I’m quite happy to see everybody play the most simple game possible.”
Algeria reached the World Cup for just the third time, following first-round elimination in 1982 and 1986. Egypt forced a tiebreaker playoff with a 2-0 win in Cairo, a match Algeria’s Rafik Halliche and Khaled Lemmouchia played wrapped with head bandages after their team bus was pelted with stones. Four days later, Les Fennecs qualified by beating Egypt, 1-0, in a tiebreaker playoff in Sudan.
The Americans have been toughened in a different way. Needing a three-goal victory over Egypt to reach last June’s Confederations Cup final – and doing just that – taught them they can overcome adversity. That lesson was intensified in this World Cup, when the U.S. rallied to tie England, 1-1, and then came back from a two-goal halftime deficit to tie Slovenia, 2-2. The Americans nearly won that one, too, but Edu’s 85th minute goal was famously disallowed.
Donovan said the team is fortunate to have had a lot of experiences “that have brought us together, both good and bad.”
“Being down 2-0 with your World Cup on the line is a difficult and daunting task to overcome,” he said, “but the way we’ve been hardened in a lot of ways over the years has made that possible, and I think we’re extremely excited for Wednesday.”