On the evening of Sat., June 12, 2010, we expect to be holed up in Castle Limey with the drawbridge raised and defenses at full in an attempt to halt a baying mob of SI.com journalists, distraught at the U.S. national team's defeat to our mighty Three Lions.
We accept that you're world leaders in pointlessly putting wood on station wagons. We appreciate that you've had major names such as ex-Norwich and Coventry stalwart
As Team Limey relaxed by a roaring fire in the bowels of Castle Limey last Friday evening, we howled with excitement as we witnessed World Cup draw emcee
In all seriousness, England will be wary of you Yanks, and not just those sizeable members of your population who look like they'd eat us in a flash if only we were topped in French's mustard.
As we've said in previous columns, Theron's World Cup draw associate and MLS ambassador
After their opening match on June 12, both England and the U.S. realistically should beat the two other teams in the group, who both scraped into the World Cup via playoffs. One is Algeria, a team that has only qualified three times for the World Cup and never gone beyond the first round on any of those occasions. The other is Slovenia, which has qualified only once (in '02) since it was formed out of the 1991 divestiture of Yugoslavia. (The Slovenians lost all three of their group games in South Korea.)
As we see it, England and the U.S.' course through the rest of the tournament is entirely down to their opening match. The losers of that game likely would get a round-of-16 date with Germany, the team that always steps up a gear in big tournaments, and England's penalty-shootout nemesis. That should be incentive enough for England to beat the U.S.
The winners probably will play
Late last month, following its 3-0 exploitation of an Arsenal side full of flair but weak in substance, Chelsea, then five points ahead of Manchester United in the EPL, was prematurely crowned champion by many commentators. But not by contrarian Team Limey. We've waited for the "no wins in three" Blues to slump in form before tipping them for success.
The first crack in
We're Chelsea apologists, perhaps, but let's look more closely at those results. Chelsea, though disjointed in the first half, looked to have gone on top at Blackburn following a triple halftime substitution -- its entire quota -- and two early second-half goals. With the score even at 2-2,
Chelsea was then deservedly beaten at Man. City last weekend, and questions must be asked about how
City poses a side packed with international stars and is unbeaten at home. It's precisely the sort of match that champions-elect like Chelsea can afford to lose: playing on the road against a team that, on its day, is a match for anyone, but one that hasn't found the season-long consistency to challenge at the top. Chelsea's 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa falls in the same category.
Much more important to the Blues is continuing their fine form against the lesser teams and its real title rivals. Aside from an off-day at Wigan, Chelsea is consistently winning the games it's expected to win. Last year's runner-up, Liverpool, will tell you the importance of not being held to draws in such matches if you're going to win the EPL. Meanwhile, Chelsea already has beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and, most importantly, Man. United. If Ancelotti's crew can find goals while Drogba is on African Cup of Nations duty next month, Chelsea will triumph in the EPL.
Realistically, only on-form Man. United will challenge.
We also expect Chelsea to feature in the latter stages of the Champions League. Read little into the result against APOEL, which occurred after Chelsea already had qualified for the knockout rounds. In the draw for the round of 16 on Dec. 18, Ancelotti is hoping his squad will be paired with either CSKA Moscow, Lyon, Stuttgart or Olympiakos. He sees Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and, especially, his former club AC Milan as the greatest threats barring his route to the quarterfinals.
Though MLS now has as many as five CONCACAF Champions League berths to award its top teams, that's clearly not enough motivation for most MLS squads. Neither is winning the U.S. Open Cup, the closest thing the U.S. has to a knockout competition like the FA and Carling Cups. And winning the MLS Supporters' Shield for having the best regular-season record is a nice prize, too. But none of the above holds fan interest like the MLS Cup playoffs.
Once one team is out of it, Lilley writes, American fans have their other sports to hold their attention. Maybe a relegation system would keep interest for fans of perpetual cellar-dwellers, Lilley writes -- but he doubts it. America loves the underdog, and playoffs allow more people the dream of winning it all.
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