WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – GROUP B: ARGENTINA VS. NIGERIA
Kickoff: June 12, 10 a.m.
Where: Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
Records: Argentina: 0-0-0, 0 points; Nigeria: 0-0-0, 0 points
Last game: Argentina: Midfielder Maximiliano Rodríguez scored twice with Angel Di María, Carlos Tévez and Sergio Agüero each chipping in with a goal in a 5-0 whipping of Canada in an exhibition match. Nigeria: Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Victor Obinna and Obafemi Martins each scored a goal in a 3-1 exhibition win over North Korea.
Significance: The winner picks up three vital points to open the tournament. In the past three World Cups, 31 of 36 teams that won their first game advanced out of pool play, a rate of 86.1%. Of the 24 teams that tied their first game, just 14 advanced (58.3%). Of the 36 squads that lost their first game, just three advanced (8.3%).
Keep an eye on: Argentina: Lionel Messi. The striker is the reigning FIFA Player of the Year and the best scorer on the planet. For Spanish La Liga side Barcelona, Messi led all of Europe with 47 goals. Nigeria: Aiyegbeni. The striker has scored more than 100 goals in the English Premier League during his career. But the 27-year-old spent much of this season on the bench for Everton, but it is integral he soars for the Super Eagles.
Key to the game: Argentina: It must overcome playing against a country in its own continent. Nigeria will have plenty of support behind it and has revenge as a motive after falling to La Albiceleste, 1-0, in the Gold Medal match at the Beijing Games in 2008. Nigeria: The Super Eagles need to be creative in the midfield. The team’s talent up top matches with any nation in the world, but an injury to Mikel John Obi creates a huge void the team must find a way to fill.
Probable Starting Lineups
ARGENTINA (La Albiceleste)
NIGERIA (Super Eagles)
GROUP C: ENGLAND VS. UNITED STATES
Kickoff: June 12, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
Records: England: 0-0-0, 0 points; United States: 0-0-0, 0 points
Last game: England: The Brits were far from their best in a lackluster, 2-1 exhibition win over Japan in a game in which both their scores came via own goals. United States: After a slow start to their tune-ups, America thumped Australia in an exhibition, 3-1, behind two goals from Edson Buddle and another from super sub Herculez Gomez.
Significance: The United States can’t afford a poor start. In World Cup 2006, the Yanks opened with a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic en route to being eliminated in pool play. England opened World Cup 2006 with a 1-0 win over Paraguay and rode the momentum to the quarterfinals.
Keep an eye on: England: Ledley King. The defender, known for his inconsistency, will be scrutinized as he must lead a unit that is without its best defender, Rio Ferdinand, who is out with an ankle injury. United States: Clint Dempsey. The midfielder is one of the best at his position in the English Premier League and earned the Bronze Ball for being named the third-best player at last summer’s Confederations Cup. Dempsey is the only American to have scored a goal in the World Cup since 2002.
Key to the game: England: Handle the pressure. England is among the favorites to win the World Cup, but has been renowned for choking in international competitions and has been smothered by the attention leading up to this match. If the Brits can just relax and play, they should win. United States: Start strong. The Yanks opened the last World Cup with a defeat. A loss to England could end an American run before it begins.
Probable Starting Lineups
ENGLAND (The Three Lions)
UNITED STATES (The Yanks)
GROUP F: ITALY VS. PARAGUAY
Kickoff: June 14, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Records: Italy: 0-0-0, 0 points; Paraguay: 0-0-0, 0 points
Last game: Italy: Forward Fabio Quagliarella scored his team’s only goal in a lackluster, 1-1 draw against Switzerland in an exhibition. Paraguay: Enrique Vera and Lucas Barrios scored in a 2-0 exhibition win over Greece.
Significance: Paraguay opened World Cup 2006 with a 1-0 loss to England and never recovered, getting eliminated in pool play. Italy, the defending champion, needs to show it’s as good – if not better – than it was four years ago in Germany. Italy opened its last World Cup with a 2-0 win over Ghana.
Keep an eye on: Italy: Quagliarella. The striker was a surprise addition for the Azzurri, but he has proven himself in exhibitions and by scoring 11 times in 34 matches for Italian club team Napoli this year. Italy is known for its defensive play, so any way the 27-year-old gets on the score sheet will be immense for his country. Paraguay: Justo Villar. The goalie was injured at the 2006 World Cup in Germany just eight minutes into the tournament after conceding an own-goal in a 1-0 loss to England. He will look to make amends this time around and appeared strong against Greece, making three saves to earn the clean sheet.
Key to the game: Italy: Be healthy. The health of Mauro Camoranesi and Andrea Pirlo, who are coming off injuries, is key. Camoranesi, a midfielder, is an integral part of the attack, but has been hindered by a knee injury. Pirlo, a defender, could miss the entire group stage with an injured calf. Paraguay: Play defense. La Albirroja has a potent attack, but it must maintain its trademark defense. Paraguay yielded a meager 16 goals in 18 matches during CONMEBOL qualifying, the second fewest in the confederation, and must be just as good against the equally stingy Azzurri.
Probable Starting Lineups
PARAGUAY (La Albirroja)
World Cup Schedule
South Korea vs. Greece in Port Elizabeth, 7:30 a.m.
Argentina vs. Nigeria in Johannesburg, 10 a.m.
United States vs. England in Johannesburg, 2:30 p.m.
Algeria vs. Slovenia in Polokwane, 7:30 a.m.
Serbia vs. Ghana in Pretoria, 10 a.m.
Germany vs. Australia in Durban, 2:30 p.m.
Netherlands vs. Denmark in Johannesburg, 7:30 a.m.
Japan vs. Cameroon in Bloemfontein, 10 a.m.
Italy vs. Paraguay in Cape Town, 2:30 p.m.
Note: All times are Eastern Standard