Friday’s match between the U.S. and Slovenia may be the most anticipated game for the U.S. since they played England last Saturday. But in order to get the job done against Slovenia, they will need to do away with the euphoria they felt just after tying England. Reason being, Slovenia earned three points after beating Algeria 1-0 and now sit alone atop the Group C standings. This is a must-win for the U.S. if they want to have a shot at advancing to the next round. Tying England and salvaging a point was a nice start for the U.S. considering that was expected to be their toughest game of the round. But as we all know, the U.S. plays much better as an underdog than as a favorite, which means Friday’s match could be much tougher than expected.

Slovenia is the smallest country competing in the World Cup with a population of about two million people. The country, which is the third smallest nation ever to play at the World Cup, has only been in existence for 20 years, so every sporting achievement they get is one that people will remember. They play with the type of chip on their shoulder that small countries need play with to stay relevant. Midfielder Andrej Komac’s guarantee of a Slovenia victory over the U.S. is perfect evidence of that chip. The Slovenian team has come a long way to get to where they are, and after a first round victory over Algeria, they probably have an abundance of confidence. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard doesn’t have quite the same opinion on the subject as Komac and said, “Talk is cheap. He’s got to stand toe to toe. And they’ve got to stand toe to toe with us for 90 minutes. And if he’s still standing, then I’ll take my hat off to him. But a lot of boxers talk, too, and they’re looking up at the lights. And the next thing they know, they’re trying to figure out how they got there.”

But teams like Slovenia are often underestimated, which is a big mistake. The worst thing you could do when playing a team like Slovenia is give them any glimmer of hope because they will quickly leave you in the dust. Coach Matjaz Kek’s team is dangerous because they work extremely hard and play a simple, neat style game that, if executed properly, will keep them in every game. They line up in the most basic of soccer formations, the 4-4-2, which consists of four defenders, four midfielders and two attackers. Their two forwards, Zlatko Dedic and Mile Novakovic, work well off each other and Dedic’s tireless running will surely be an issue for the U.S. defenders. However, the defense did a good job of not letting their marks run free against England and will need to do the same to earn a win against Slovenia. They are exceptional at moving the ball up the field using crisp, short passes so as long as the U.S. keeps their men in front them and not run free, they will be fine.

Most of the talk coming into this game was about the status of the U.S. goalkeeper’s ribs. Howard bruised them in the 29th minute of the England game after Emile Heskey came flying in with his cleats up and slammed Howard square in the ribs. He toughed it out and stayed in the game and was evaluated shortly afterward. The team doctors diagnosed it as bruised ribs, not broken ribs, which was a great sign considering how important he is to the team. The good news is that he had about a week to let it heal and with an injury like his, every extra day of rest helps.

This game is going is come down to pure heart. Everyone has talked about Slovenia’s motivation for winning this game and putting their country on the map. Well, the U.S. has some motivation of their own, and it’s to not let their country down. It has been well-documented that when the U.S. are favorites, they don’t play with the same drive and intensity as they do when they are underdogs. This should be even more of a reason for the U.S. to come out on fire and prove to everyone they are for real.

Submitted by Steve Giles