U.S. to open against England at World Cup

CAPE TOWN, South Africa The U.S. opens against England in Rustenburg on June 12, the teams' first /*World Cup*/ matchup since the Americans' 1-0 victory at the 1950 tournament in Brazil.

The United States then meets Slovenia at Johannesburg's Ellis Park on June 18 and completes the first round on June 23 against Algeria in Pretoria. The U.S. has never played either nation.

"This is the best draw we've ever had in any World Cup," said former U.S. forward Eric Wynalda, now an analyst for the Fox Soccer Channel. "No disrespect to England, but this is an ideal group for us."

Several U.S. players are well known to England because they play in the Premier League, including goalkeeper Tim Howard (Everton), midfielder Clint Dempsey (Fulham), defenders Jonathan Spector (West Ham) and Jay DeMerit (Watford) and forward Jozy Altidore (Hull). U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra played for Fulham.

"It will be like a Premier League game," Fulham manager Roy Hodgson said. "The USA is like a team you meet every week. It's better than meeting North Korea and a style of play you're not used to."

The game could feature a matchup of Los Angeles Galaxy teammates Landon Donovan playing for the U.S. against England midfielder David Beckham. Donovan shrugged his shoulders when the U.S. was picked to play England. "It never ends," he said - apparent reference to his connection to the English star.

"This is going to be awesome," Donovan said. "I can't wait. This is going to be great."

The U.S. has beaten England twice and lost seven times in nine meetings. The other victory was 2-0 in a 1993 exhibition at Foxborough, Mass. In the most recent matchups, England won 2-1 at Chicago's Soldier Field in 2005 and 2-0 at Wembley last year.

The only official match between the teams was at the 1950 World Cup.

"I think it will be not an easy game," England coach Fabio Capello said. "It's good. USA plays good and the Premier League is the best championship in the world. If you are playing in England, you are a really good player. Like basketball, if you are a European playing in the NBA, you are a good player."

Mexico was drawn Friday to meet South Africa in the tournament opener on June 11 in Johannesburg at Soccer City, which also is where the final will be played July 11. El Tri then plays France, which qualified with the help of Thierry Henry's hand ball against Ireland, and Uruguay in Group A.

In the other groups it was:

Group B: Argentina, Greece, Nigeria, South Korea;

Group C: Algeria, England, Slovenia, United States;

Group D: Australia, Germany, Ghana, Serbia;

Group E: Cameroon, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands;

Group F: Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia;

Group G: Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Portugal;

Group H: Chile, Honduras, Spain, Switzerland.

Brazil, a five-time champion, wound up in the toughest group and will face two nations in the top 16 of the world rankings: Portugal, which is led by Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year; and Ivory Coast, which has Chelsea's Didier Drogba, who is tied for the Premier League scoring lead with 11 goals.

European champion Spain, which has never won the World Cup, will be a heavy favorite to make it through to the knockout phase.

Germany has won the title three times, but drew a challenging group. Defending champion Italy, trying to match Brazil's record of five titles, should be confident of reaching the next stage.

The Netherlands, which won all its qualifying games, should be favored to make it through to the second round. Argentina is in among the more difficult groups and pressure will be on coach Diego Maradona, whose team struggled throughout qualifying to get the best out of talented stars such as Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez.

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