FIFA world ranking: 14
World Cup appearance: 9th
Best appearance: Finished third in 1930; quarterfinalists in 1998.
World Cup record: 6-16-3
For kicks: It's arguable that this is the strongest contingent the United States has ever fielded in a World Cup. The Stars and Stripes are looking to rebound from a dismal 2006 showing in Germany. However riding the momentum of a second-place showing in last summer's Confederations Cup, a smooth run through CONCACAF qualifying and warm-up wins over Turkey (2-1) and Australia (3-1). Everyone likes to talk about the play of forward Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy) and goalkeeper Tim Howard (Everton), but the efforts of MLS' Edson Buddle have been the surprise for the U.S. thus far. Buddle led the Galaxy with nine goals in nine games en route to an invite from U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley. Buddle thanked Bradley last Saturday when he scored two goals in the U.S.' 3-1 win over Australia in Roodepoort, South Africa.
FIFA world ranking: 23
World Cup appearance: 2nd
Best appearance: Group stage in 2002
World cup record: 0-3-0
vs. the U.S.: June 18, 9:30 a.m. (ESPN)
For kicks: Tiny and unassuming, Slovenia knocked off mighty Russia to qualify for its second-ever World Cup appearance. Slovenia, a country of just over 2 million will be led by midfielder and team captain Robert Koren. Koren, 29, who plays for West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League, netted five goals in 34 matches, becoming the only Slovenian to score in England. This is a team that could very well shock the world again as Slovenia is capable of upsetting any of the three teams in Group C. Defense is its strong suit, led by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic (Udinese), who allowed just six goals throughout qualifying. It enters the World Cup with a 3-1 victory over New Zealand in a warm-up friendly last Friday.
FIFA world ranking: 31
World Cup appearance: 3rd
Best appearance: Group stages in 1982 and '86
World Cup record: 2-3-1
vs. the U.S.: June 23rd, 9:30 a.m. (ESPN)
For kicks: Algeria is another one of those shock-the-masses type teams as this group seems like a pushover, but has proved to be anything but. Algeria bested African Cup of Nations winner Egypt to qualify and recently defeated the United Arab Emirates, 1-0, in a warm-up friendly in Germany last Saturday. Affectionately called the "Desert Foxes," Algeria has one of the craftiest playmakers in utility man Nadir Belhadj (Portsmouth). Belhadj's versatility extends to either right back or right midfield. The 28-year-old entered as a second-half substitution for Portsmouth in the English Football Association Cup final against Chelsea and was the catalyst on two chances to equalize in what amounted to a 1-0 Chelsea victory.
- Kerith Gabriel