For Americans, it all comes down to this

American coach Bob Bradley, second from left, talks with his players before a training session.

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American coach Bob Bradley, second from left, talks with his players before a training session.

PRETORIA, South Africa — One more game, one last chance to make their reputation.

When the Americans play Algeria at the World Cup today, they'll either live up to all the hype and earn a spot among the final 16 teams — or fall painfully short of their long-stated goal and lose a watershed opportunity.

"We have a great chance (today) to get a win and advance on to the second round," captain Carlos Bocanegra said Tuesday. "It's important for us because we had that disappointment in '06. It's not really extra motivation, but it's just in the back of our minds. You work so hard and you train for so long for the World Cup, and it can be over so quickly if you don't advance."

A victory or possibly a tie would move the United States into the knockout rounds on a high that will set off midday celebrations back home. Replicate the loss to Ghana that knocked the United States out in 2006, and it will start a new round of soul-searching that could cost coach Bob Bradley his job — not to mention dampening the burgeoning enthusiasm for soccer in America.

"Our objective is very clear: It's win the game and take all the other stuff out of the question," midfielder Landon Donovan said.

Since returning to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, the United States has alternated first-round elimination ('90, '98 and '06) with a second-round appearance at home in 1994 and a trip to the quarterfinals in South Korea in 2002.

This World Cup started with a come-from-behind 1-1 tie against glamorous England. Then the Americans trailed Slovenia by two goals at halftime only to fight back as Donovan and Michael Bradley scored for a 2-2 draw. They appeared to go ahead, but Maurice Edu's 85th-minute goal was disallowed for reasons referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali didn't explain.

"We're not going to worry about any calls or anything like that getting us down," Bocanegra said. "We had a good second half, and hopefully we can continue with that momentum and put that into the Algeria game."

The United States has never faced the Desert Foxes, who have yet to score in this tournament after a 1-0 loss to Slovenia and a 0-0 draw against England. Algeria can advance only with a win, and coach Rabah Saadane repeatedly used the phrase "God willing" in reference to a victory.

"We are in a good mood to make our people back home very happy," Algeria captain Antar Yahia said.

A win would send the United States to a second-round matchup this weekend with Germany, Ghana, Serbia or Australia — and another big television audience for American soccer.

Coaches will be paying attention to the England-Slovenia game, which will be played simultaneously in Port Elizabeth. If the English lose, the United States advances with a tie. If the United States and England draw, the Americans reach the second round if they maintain their goal advantage over the English, currently 3-1.

It could get thorny if the United States and the English tie and England scores two goals more than the Americans. Then Slovenia would win the group and a televised drawing of a ball from a bowl would be held at 1 p.m. EDT today in Johannesburg to determine whether the United States or England finishes second.

"I think for us the concentration is just on getting ready for the match," Bob Bradley said. "So many things can happen along the way, so we've not put much thought into the final way of determining things."

Note: U.S. forward Jozy Altidore missed the first part of training because of an upset stomach. He joined his teammates just before practice was closed to reporters.

How the United States advances

• Defeats Algeria today

OR

• Ties Algeria, and England loses or ties Slovenia today.

In the case of an England tie, the United States advances if it maintains its total-goal advantage over England (currently 3-1). If England makes up that deficit and equals the United States in total goals, then it goes to the final tiebreaker: The drawing of lots. U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said a person selected by FIFA would choose a ball from a bowl to determine who advances (1 p.m. today, if necessary).

England vs. Slovenia

Coach Fabio Capello won't bench John Terry for today's crucial Group C match against Slovenia despite his annoyance at the former team captain's outspoken comments about England's poor performances.

Capello said there was no possibility he would leave out Terry as a punishment because he is "a most important player."

England is in danger of going out in the first round if it fails to beat Slovenia. There have been widespread reports of unrest within the squad and players questioning Capello's methods, tactics and selections.

But midfielder Frank Lampard said Terry's comments were just in keeping with the ex-captain's style and the team is on the same page.

"A rift honestly isn't there," Lampard said.

Meanwhile, Slovenia needs only a tie to advance. Said Slovenia captain Robert Koren: "They didn't show the type of football we expect of them. It gives us some hope."

Times wires

For Americans, it all comes down to this 06/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:03am]

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