Bring On Beckham! U.S. Gets Favorable World Cup Draw

World CupABC News Photo Illustration

The United States soccer team will kick off this summer's World Cup in South Africa against a formidable foe -- former world champions England.

But the group in which the Americans were placed during Friday's draw in Cape Town also features two more manageable opponents in Slovenia and Algeria -- neither a traditional world soccer power.

The top two teams in each of the eight opening-round groups advance to the tournaments knock-out stages, with the goal of being crowned world champions.

Sam's Army -- the unofficial rabid fan club of the U.S. national soccer teams -- will see the squad in action starting June 12 in Rustenberg against England, a rematch of the the U.S. team's 1-0 victory over England in the 1950 World Cup. Sixteen years later, England won the world title.

The U.S.-England match-up could pit club teammates Landon Donovan and David Beckham against one another, a pair who have already squared off in media headlines.

Donovan and Beckham have played together with Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy the past three seasons, but their relationship was strained by critical comments Donovan made in Grant Wahl's book, "The Beckham Experiment."

Beckham, the former England captain, attended Friday's draw.

Former U.S. national team player and ESPN Soccer Analyst Alexi Lalas said the Americans should be ecstatic about a draw that features relative lightweights Algeria and Slovenia.

"It's awesome. I can't believe it," Lalas said on ESPN. "You knew you were going to get somebody big, but I thought you'd get two big teams."

Instead, the only world power in the Americans' group is England.

It was Lalas who -- as the Galaxy general manager -- brought Donovan and Beckham together in Los Angeles. After patching up their off-the-filed differences, the duo failed in their bid to win the MLS title this year, losing the championship game on penalty kicks to Real Salt Lake.

Brazil Placed in 'Group of Death'

Today's draw produced a number of other intriguing pairings, including an ominous "Group of Death" that includes five-time World Cup champion Brazil, European powerhouse Portugal, African titans the Ivory Coast, and North Korea in Group G. The Brazil-Portugal game appears on paper to be the best opening-round match-up.

The draw also produced a tough opening-round group for the host nation. In Group A, South Africa will play France, Mexico and Uruguay.

There are also some mouth-watering potential second-round match-ups. If England and Germany both advance to the knock-out stages, then they could meet in a second round elimination game. A similar scenario exists in Groups G and H -- which could pit world powers Spain and Brazil -- widely regarded as the two best teams in the world -- against each other in the second.

If Spain and Portugal meet in the second round, the game would pit Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo -- the world's most expensive player -- against a handful of his teammates at club level with Spanish giant Real Madrid.

Defending champions Italy were drawn into a favorable opening group, pitting the "Azzurri" against New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia.

U.S. Looks to Rebound from Disastrous '02 World Cup

The U.S. team is coming off a hugely disappointing effort at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The Americans lost their opening game to the Czech Republic, tied Italy, and lost their final group game to Ghana, failing to advance beyond the opening round.

The U.S. will head to South Africa with bittersweet memories of their last trip there. Last summer the Americans shocked the world by knocking off European champions Spain in the Confederations Cup, an eight-team warm-up tournament.

The victory over the Spaniards -- who had been riding a 35-game unbeaten streak -- was one of the greatest wins in U.S. soccer history, and the Americans looked to be on the verge of completing their Cinderella run when they jumped out to a surprising 2-0 lead over Brazil in the championship game. But "la Canarinha" rallied in the second half for a 3-2 win to clinch the title.

To embark on a similar run this summer, the Americans will have to overcome a series of serious injury questions. Star defender Oguchi Onyewu is currently rehabilitating a serious knee injury, much to the chagrin of his club team, European giants AC Milan. Star striker Charlie Davies is also out with a long-term injury, the result of a severe car accident this fall outside of Washington, D.C.


The Americans boast attacking firepower with forwards Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Donovan. Michael Bradley -- the coach's son -- leads the midfield, while defender Carlos Bocanegra has been a mainstay at the back for years.

If there is one position when the Americans can truly lay claim to ranking with the world's it is at goalkeeper. Tim Howard is the team's first-choice between the pipes after taking over for long-time net-minder Kasey Keller. Howard plays his club soccer in England's Premiership with Everton.

The 32 national teams have more than six months to prepare for the tournament, with soccer's biggest showcase kicking off on June 11 when South Africa faces Mexico in the opening game. One month later, on July 11, the World Cup will be presented to the tournament's champions, an honor far more valuable than the accompanying $31 million prize. As they say, to the victors go the spoils…