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While England is ranked eighth in the world and the United States 14th, the Americans will be favored in their final two group games, against No. 25 Slovenia and No. 30 Algeria. Slovenia, the smallest nation in the World Cup with a population of 2 million, took the Group C lead with a 1-0 victory over the Desert Foxes on Sunday when Robert Koren's long-range shot was misjudged by Fawzi Chaouchi and bounced in off the goalkeeper's arm in the 79th minute.
Slovenia, which has never played the United States before as an independent nation, poses a different challenge than the speedy and physical English.
"They're a hardworking team. They're organized. They have an ability at times to sit back a little bit more and still get you on the counter," Bob Bradley said. "The pure speed and physicality of last night's game, that probably is on the very high end, and the Slovenia game, you know, in some ways might be a little bit more of a chess match."
No matter the opponent, the U.S. will have to play well to advance to the second round for the first time since 2002. DeMerit played strongly against England, and while there were defensive breakdowns, Howard came up with big saves in the second half. It was remarkable given that he needed an injection of painkiller at halftime following a collision with Heskey that bruised ribs.
Bradley doesn't know if Howard broke ribs but said he's confident his top goalkeeper will play against Slovenia.
Howard knows the defense must improve for the U.S. to be successful.
"We weren't particularly sharp early on," he said. "We weren't tight, especially on the goal. I don't know at the start if it was nerves or what have you, but we responded. We knew we could respond well, and once we calmed down and got into the flow of the game I thought we did well."
Donovan and Dempsey should be less pinned down defensively and should get more room to create on the flanks in the next two games. In a way, because the U.S. will be less afraid to push up, the Americans will have to be more conscious of not getting caught upfield.
"The second game is going to be even harder," Onyewu said. "I think it's important for us to use our momentum from this game and to push it towards the next two games. It's going to be very difficult, even more difficult as the tournament goes on and the results get more crucial."
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