For the U.S., Friday's match will be like looking in a mirror -- at least from a tactical point of view. Slovenia, like the Americans, plays a basic 4-4-2, has a style based more in physique than technique, keeps its wide midfielders narrow and has a big man/quick man center-forward pairing. Both even have an attacking right back, and each would rank its goalkeeper among the best two or three players in the team.
The second World Cup game for both teams will be intense and intriguing, but it is unlikely to be pretty. In fact, it's likely to resemble nothing so much as an English league match from the late 1980s.
Slovenia's strengths, without question, are its defense and its team ethic. It is blessed with a remarkable mental strength and faith in its method, as was apparent against Algeria on Sunday. That was a game Slovenia knew that realistically it had to win to have any chance of making the knockouts. It began badly, as Algeria bossed possession and had the couple of early chances, but Slovenia didn't panic, persisted in its method, and by halftime had gained control of the midfield. Slowly, the life was stifled from Algeria, and it panicked,
This is how Slovenia does things: minimalistically. Its persistence should never be underestimated. Of the 20 goals it scored in World Cup qualifying, seven came after the 80th minute. The most significant of those was
Slovenia is not a great team. It may be able to dismantle a side like San Marino, as it did in qualifying, or Qatar, as it did in its preparations for the World Cup, but it cannot take the initiative against a better side. It sits deep and looks to break a potential siege with quick counterattacking sallies. It is awkward rather than gifted. An awareness of its limitations, allied to rigorous organization and a resolute mentality, makes them an awkward opponent for anybody, although it should be said that historically it has tended to perform better against more technical opposition.
The setup is simple.
Bradley and Clark will also have to be aware of
Like the U.S., Slovenia's only real creativity comes from the wide midfielders,
The probability is that the center will be crowded on Friday, with all eight midfielders and possibly Dedic battling in the same space. It's likely to be attritional and unpleasant, a battle of will as much as ability. There won't be any sweeping 20-pass flurries or brilliant slaloming dribbles; aesthetes should probably turn away. Art, though, comes in many guises, and just because it isn't beautiful doesn't mean it isn't soccer.