Uncle Sam wants YOU. (And a win over Algeria.) (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Amazingly, every single team playing today could make it into the next round of games -- and every single team playing today could also fail to make it to the next round. These two groups are riddled with chaos and parity -- which is good news if you're a fan, because there should be some full-tilt soccer on display today.
9:00 CT, ESPN: USA vs. Algeria (Group C). Obviously this is the big one from our perspective and the game of the day. Thanks to England's dire draw with Algeria last Friday, the U.S. once again controls its own destiny -- win and we're through to the knockout rounds. Lose and we're toast. Technically, we can also get through with a draw, depending on what happens in the England game, but let's be honest: we need to win this game. On paper, it's a game America should win. Nate Silver's Soccer Power Index ranks America 16th and Algeria 66th; the SPI Match Predictor gives the U.S. 50% odds of winning the game. But nothing is guaranteed; Algeria played inspired defense against England and, having secured a point from that draw, they now have something to play for in this game, since a win could see them through to the next round. On the other hand, that may benefit the U.S. from a tactical sense; with a win a necessity to advance, Algeria should be forced to come forward and attack, leaving the U.S. with more opportunities to counter-attack.
There's also the matter of history -- the U.S. has never won the third game in the group stage of the World Cup and they have a terrible knack of coming up small when the pressure is on them to perform up to high expectations. They'll need to break those trends (as well as the recent trend of conceding an early goal), but it's not as if they need to look too far back to see an example of U.S. success in a do-or-die situation. A year ago at the Confederations Cup, the U.S. was in a seemingly hopeless position heading into their third and final group against Egypt (who are, slightly ironically, the hated rivals of Algeria)... and that turned out pretty well. Things aren't nearly as desperate now, but let's hope the U.S. has a similar performance in store.
9:00 CT, ESPN2: England vs. Slovenia (Group C). The "other" game in our group. In an ideal world, the U.S. would score early in their game and Slovenia would score early in this one to take some of the pressure off the U.S.; if the reverse happens and the English get an early goal while the U.S. has to spend much of the game chasing a goal, the tension is going to mount. If England plays as poorly as they did against Algeria in this game, they will almost certainly lose, their World Cup will be over, and they can join the French in the ranks of "hideously talented underachievers" from this year's World Cup. Their underachieving might be even worse, considering that (a) they're supposed to be good (#5 in the aforementioned SPI) and (b) unlike the French, they've actually been trying to win.
1:30 CT, ESPN: Ghana vs. Germany (Group D). Ghana's one of the few teams playing today that can advance with a draw and no help; unfortunately, they're facing a German team that likely needs a win to advance. The Black Stars have defended well in the tournament thus far (only one goal conceded) and the German offense didn't look nearly as lethal in their 1-0 loss to Serbia as it did in their 4-0 drubbing of Australia. They'll also be without arguably their best striker, Miroslav Klose, thanks to a mandatory red card suspension. On the other hand... they're Germany, you know? Die Mannschaft always seem to find a way to go deep into the World Cup (a record 11 semifinal appearances) -- and they never seem fail to make it out of the group stage (they've made it to the final eight in 14 straight World Cups).
1:30 CT, ESPN2: Serbia vs. Australia (Group D). Australia looked dead and buried after getting pantsed 4-0 by the Germans and going down a man in the opening twenty-five minutes against Ghana, but they somehow scraped out a 1-1 draw and, improbably, find themselves with a chance to go through into the knockout rounds with a win and a German loss. Serbia looked much sharper in edging Germany 1-0 than in blandly stumbling to a 1-0 loss to Ghana. Still, if you're looking for high-scoring soccer, this may not be the game to watch -- both teams have only managed to score a goal apiece through two games. It may be more interesting to see if the Serbians will, for the third straight game, gift their opponents with a penalty kick off a blatantly obvious handball in the box.
Anyhoo, usual rules of game threads apply: no porn, no discussion of piracy; if you can't watch the game on TV, there are legal online streams at ESPN3.com. Beyond that, the topic is verboten.