England wary of USA threat

RUSTENBURG - Fabio Capello, just a child when England last met the United States at the World Cup 60 years ago, is acutely aware a repeat of that famous result on Saturday would create another sensation.

As a three-year-old growing up in Friuli, close to the border with Slovenia in north-eastern Italy, he heard of the Americans' 1-0 win in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on June 29, 1950, from his football-mad friends and family.

This time, in his first appearance as a team manager at the World Cup, the 63-year-old Capello knows the whole world is waiting to see if England might lose again in their opening Group C fixture at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

For a coach whose career is littered with honours from AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus, it is a potential banana skin he is determined to overcome against a nation that has made giant strides over the last 20 years and beat Spain during an impressive display at the Confederations Cup last year.

"I understand this is a really, really important moment for the country but I am relaxed," he said on Thursday. "This team has improved a lot. We've found a spirit. Things are good now."

In 24 matches in charge, Capello has led England to 18 wins, but he knows his transformation of the team from European also-rans to one of the pre-tournament favourites will be no defence against media uproar if the U.S. secure a third triumph in 10 meetings with their trans-Atlantic rivals.

England won the other seven although they have rarely looked convincing, or played with any fluency, in recent months since qualification for these finals was secured.

Capello has remained defiant but has several questions to answer including which of his goalkeepers will be first choice behind a rebuilt central defence and recrafted central midfield.

The loss of captain Rio Ferdinand required Michael Dawson to fly from London and meant Ledley King was promoted as the likely partner for Terry in central defence.

In the absence of injured midfielder Gareth Barry, Capello will partner new skipper Steven Gerrard with Frank Lampard, despite mediocre showings together in the past.

He may also spring a surprise with his keeper selection, having tested Joe Hart and Robert Green in the last warm-up game, if David James, 39, is considered unfit.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley has also rotated his lineup in the last three warm-ups but is expected to start with striker Jozy Altidore, who missed Saturday's 3-1 win over Australia due to an ankle injury which has healed.

The key tactical question is whether Altidore plays with a partner and if he does then in-form Edson Buddle is favourite for the role.

However, as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are essentially attacking players, in wide midfield positions, there is a lot of responsibility on the two defence-minded central midfielders.

One alternative option is to leave Altidore alone up front and play an extra midfielder, giving the U.S. a five-man midfield against England's four.

At the back, Bradley must decide between centre-back Ogyuchi Onyewu, who has not played a full match for seven months, and Clarence Goodson.

Bradley, like Capello, has said he is confident.

"Our leadership is strong. We understand that when we play as a team, when everybody's committed the right way, we can play with top teams," he said.

A first draw between the nations is the most likely outcome of a battle of attrition between two sides coached to press, contain and counter-attack.

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