ALGERIA: FIFA RANKING 30, ODDS TO WIN 500/1
Manager Rabah Saadane was an assistant coach to the team that created the greatest moment in Algeria's football history, when they beat West Germany 2-1 in their first World Cup appearance back in 1982 in Spain. He is now enjoying his fifth spell in charge of the national team, but the chances of Algeria achieving a similar result against England look slim as the north African nation is in dire form.
The experienced coach has so far failed to cure Algeria of their schizophrenic football. They qualified at the expense of Egypt, a team they would lose 4-0 to only a couple of months later in the African Cup of Nations. In that tournament at the start of the year in Angola, they beat Didier Drogba's highly fancied Ivory Coast 3-2, but only after they had been thrashed 3-0 in their opening game by lowly Malawi.
In fact, since beating the Egyptians they embarked on a run of four straight defeats without scoring – losing 4-0 to Egypt, 1-0 to Nigeria, 3-0 to Serbia and 3-0 to the Republic of Ireland. This terrible run of form has increased the pressure on Saadane, who has been struggling to maintain calm amid talk of disquiet among the players.
To try and inject some new blood to his Desert Foxes, Saadane, 64, has picked a young squad for this World Cup, with 11 players 25 or under, and only three men in their 30s – goalkeeper Lounes Gaouaoui (32), captain Yazid Mansouri (32) and striker Rafik Saifi (35).
Saadane has attempted to relieve some of the pressure on the side by claiming their achievement in qualifying means any success in South Africa is an added bonus. "The objective for our young players was to reach the World Cup in the first place. Now that they've achieved that there's no pressure on them whatsoever," he said recently.
"That said, we still have our role to play, and we're going to be doing everything we can to make a go of this World Cup."
Scoring goals is clearly a major problem for Algeria. Strikers Rafik Saifi and Abdelkader Ghezzal have failed to deliver for Saadane but the coach has little option but to persevere and hope for a change in luck. Part of the problem has been the disappointing form of Karim Ziani, the team's playmaker who has made a name for himself with his displays for Wolfsburg. But his football of late has not been good enough to meet the expectations of the nation's fanatical supporters.
Two players known to English eyes will be Hassan Yebda and Nadir Belhadj, who featured for Portsmouth. Rangers' Madjid Bougherra leads the defence.
With the World Cup coming to Africa for the first time at least Algeria, alone among African countries, have not felt the need to seek a manager from Europe with greater global experience. South Africa are led by a Brazilian; Nigeria and Ivory Coast are coached by Swedes; a Frenchman is in charge of Cameroon and Ghana's coach is Serbian.
Saadane said: "I think I'm representing all African coaches and the Arab world as well. It's a big responsibility. But I can tell you that in Africa there are plenty of coaches and trainers of great quality."
Their shocking loss of form suggests that they will end pointless, particularly if they lose to Slovenia in their opening game in Polokwane.
Previous best Group stage twice (1982 & 1986). Went out on goal difference in 1982, despite finishing joint top of their group, before finishing bottom of a group including Brazi and Spain four years later.
Killer fact Coach Rabah Saadane led Algeria to South Africa, having also been in charge of the Desert Foxes when they last reached the finals - in Mexico in 1986. It's his fifth stint in charge of the country.
Goalkeepers: Lounes Gaouaoui (age 32, ASO Chlef, caps 48), Faouzi Chaouchi (25, Entente Setif, 9), Rais M Bolhi (24, Slavia Sofia, 1). Defenders: Abdelkader Laifaoui (25, Entente Setif, 6), Madjid Bougherra (27, Rangers, 40), Carl Medjani (25, Ajaccio, 0), Rafik Halliche (23, Nacional Madeira, 15), Anther Yahia (28, Bochum, 43), Habib Belaid (24, Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1), Nadir Belhadj (27, Portsmouth, 44), Djamel Mesbah (25, Lecce, 1). Midfielders: Hassan Yebda (26, Portsmouth, 9), Medhi Lacen (25, Racing Santander, 2), Yazid Mansouri (32, Lorient, 66), Adlene Guedioura (24, Charleroi, 1), Riad Boudebouz (20, Sochaux, 1), Djamel Abdoun (24, Nantes, 6), Fouad Kadir (26, Valenciennes, 1), Karim Ziani (27, Wolfsburg, 54), Karim Matmour (25, Borussia Moenchengladbach, 21). Strikers: Abdelkader Ghezzal (25, Siena, 18), Rafik Djebbour (26, AEK Athens, 15), Rafik Saifi (35, Istres, 59).
SLOVENIA: FIFA RANKING 25, ODDS TO WIN 400/1
Slovenia's play-off win over Russia prompted joyous celebrations in the former Yugoslavian republic, the strangest of which came when Prime Minister Borut Pahor came good on his promise to clean the players' football boots.
"I admit I did not clean them thoroughly" he said as he emerged from the team's dressing room following the surprise 1-0 win over Guus Hiddink's Russia that gave Slovenia victory on the away goals rule. The Prime Minister must be thinking up another forfeit should Slovenia, the smallest nation at this year's finals, achieve the unthinkable and qualify for the knock-out stages.
The chances of them finishing above two of England, USA and Algeria are slim. But their record in qualification demonstrates they are well capable of upsetting sides rated far higher in the eyes of Fifa. They won their last four qualifying games, which included victories over Poland and group winners Slovakia, to reach the play-offs, where their neat, organised style proved to be enough to topple the mighty Russia.
It was a remarkable achievement for a nation of just 2 million people, and where the main sports all involve snow or ice. Coach Matjaz Kek said at the time: "It's very important for the whole country. Our nation has only existed for 20 years and every win in sport can help make sure that people around the world have heard of us."
Kek's side may be short of quality but will not be short of effort. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was outstanding in the qualifiers in which Slovenia conceded just six goals in 12 games. He only recently signed a new contract with Italian side Udinese, with whom he has played for the past three seasons, but if he excels at the World Cup he could find himself the object of interest from some of Europe's bigger clubs. In front of Handanovic, the centre back pairing are Bostjan Cesar, who has just moved to Italian side Chievo, and Marko Suler of Belgian side Ghent.
Slovenia are captained by Robert Koren, formerly of West Bromwich Albion, who is joined in midfield by left-winger Valter Birsa of Auxerre and the energetic Andraz Kirm of Wisla Krakow. In attack is 30-year-old Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic who averages a goal every other international. He is supported by Zlatko Dedic, of German side Bochum, who scored the winner against Russia.
Slovenia are a team drawn from a host of lesser clubs across Europe yet they share a sense of togetherness that comes from a mutual desire to prove people wrong. Many of them have competed in the same teams at youth and junior levels, and that unity continues to the senior side.
"Sometimes soccer is not played only with the legs but also with the heart and the head," said midfielder Birsa, who is 23. "Friendship is sometimes bigger than star players, and I think that put us in the World Cup."
Their most realistic hope is to finish third in the group, if they can beat Algeria in their opening game on 12 June.
Previous best Group stage (2002). Finished bottom with three defeats in their first tournament.
Killer fact Slovenia are the smallest nation to have qualified for the World Cup, having a population of just over 2 million.
Goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic (age 25, Udinese, caps 38), Jasmin Handanovic (32, Mantova, 3), Aleksander Seliga (30, Sparta Rotterdam, 1). Defenders: Bojan Jokic (24, Chievo Verona, 33), Marko Suler (27, Ghent, 16), Bostjan Cesar (27, Grenoble, 41), Branko Ilic (27, Lokomotiv Moscow, 36), Matej Mavric (31, Koblenz, 32), Elvedin Dzinic (24, Maribor, 0), Miso Brecko (26, Cologne, 30), Suad Filekovic (31, Maribor, 14). Midfielders: Andraz Kirm (25, Wisla Krakow, 25), Andrej Komac (30, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 40), Rene Krhin (20, Inter Milan, 3), Dalibor Stevanovic (25, Vitesse Arnhem, 15), Robert Koren (29, Unattached, 45), Aleksander Radosavljevic (31, Larissa, 14), Valter Birsa (23, Auxerre, 33). Strikers: Milivoje Novakovic (31, Cologne, 37), Zlatko Dedic (26, VfL Bochum, 23), Zlatan Ljubijankic (26, Ghent, 16), Nejc Pecnik (24, Nacional, 7), Tim Matavz (21, Groningen, 0).
USA: FIFA RANKING 14, ODDS TO WIN 80/1
The American team were invited to the White House before they left for South Africa last week, to receive a message of good luck in person from President Barack Obama, who was joined by Vice-President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton.
They left with the words of the President ringing in their ears. "Everybody's going to be cheering for you. And although sometimes we don't remember it here in the United States, this is going to be the biggest world stage there is," Obama said.
"We're going to be proud of what you do when you get to South Africa, and you will have somebody in the Oval Office who's going to be watching ESPN to make sure that things are going OK," he added.
The President's lukewarm if honest appraisal of how the World Cup will be greeted by the majority of Americans demonstrates the lack of progress Team USA have made despite the huge resources made available.
This is probably the best team they have ever had, even better than the side that reached the quarter-finals eight years ago, but they have not really progressed to the extent that some might have expected back in 1994 – when they hosted the tournament. Having said that, the USA does finally have a few stars to wear the stars and stripes, most of whom we know from their time in the Premier League. Fulham's Clint Dempsey is an inventive and dangerous player on the left of midfield; striker Landon Donovan showed how good he can be during his recent loan period with Everton; Tim Howard has become one of the Premier League's most consistent goalkeepers at Everton; while 20-year-old striker Jozy Altidore showed flashes of his unpredictable talent when on loan at Hull City last season.
Yet that familiarity with America's best players means they have lost one of their trump cards – surprise. In previous World Cups no one really expected much of the USA, and so when they did deliver, such as in 2002 when they shocked Portugal and beat them 3-2, it caught their opposition on the hop, a situation that Donovan fully appreciates.
"It will be different now," he said. "The perception of our team was different. We were really quiet publicly, there wasn't a lot of press about us going into the tournament and Portugal were dark horses and we kind of shocked them and they weren't ready for us. We're certainly not going to be able to do that against England. A lot of our guys either play in England or have played in England, so a lot of us know each other and so there won't be any hiding."
Familiarity with the American team should count heavily in England's favour when they kick off on 12 June in Rustenburg. Fabio Capello's side should not be worried about a team that contains the likes of West Ham's Jonathan Spector or the former Fulham full-back Carlos Bocanegra, who now plays for Rennes in France.
The USA squad will certainly not lack for motivation. They are due to share a team bonus of more than $20m (£13.8m) if they actually manage to go on and win the tournament. The potential payout is the biggest ever in World Cup history, and would be worth $895,000 (£617,332) to each of the 23 players should they triumph. Coach Bob Bradley has divided opinion among football fans in the States, with some believing he has worked wonders in building a team that was good enough to beat Spain in the Confederations Cup in South Africa a year ago, while others berate him for being too defensive and restrictive.
Bradley usually adopts a 4-4-2 formation, and the team displays a typically American logic to the game, by acting out certain "plays" that can be used at specific moments. The key player is Donovan, who has a record total of 42 international goals in 122 appearances for the USA.
The experience of the Confederations Cup 12 months ago, when they reached the final but lost 3-2 to Brazil, should stand the USA in good stead this summer. The Americans believe they can catch England cold and repeat their amazing 1-0 win from the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. Should they succeed, then President Obama will be one of the first faces they see again on their return.
The USA are unlikely to finish above England but should make it to the last 16 where a probable meeting with Germany should prove their undoing.
Previous best Semi-finals (1930). After making the last four in their first tournament, the US failed to make it past the second stage before reaching the quarter-finals eight years ago.
Killer fact After England, the Americans are the World Cup side with most British-based players in their squad - eight.
And the fans? Nicknamed "Sam's Army" the Americans will be taking over South Africa in large numbers. Aside from the hosts, the Americans bought the largest amount of tickets of any nation. Dressed all in red, don't be surprised to hear supporters singing in both English and Spanish, as a lot of "soccer" fans come from the Latino communities.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (age 25, Aston Villa, caps 15), Tim Howard (31, Everton, 49), Marcus Hahnemann (37, Wolverhampton Wanderers, 6). Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (31, Rennes, 77), Jonathan Bornstein (25, Chivas USA, 29), Steve Cherundolo (31, Hannover, 57), Jay DeMerit (30, Watford, 17), Clarence Goodson (28, IK Start, 11), Oguchi Onyewu (28, AC Milan, 51), Jonathan Spector (24, West Ham United, 24). Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (28, Rangers, 90), Michael Bradley (22, Borussia Monchengladbach, 41), Ricardo Clark (27, Eintracht Frankfurt, 27), Clint Dempsey (27, Fulham, 60), Landon Donovan (28, Los Angeles Galaxy, 121), Maurice Edu (24, Rangers, 12), Benny Feilhaber (25, Aarhus, 31), Stuart Holden (24, Bolton, 12), Jose Torres (22, Pachuca, 8). Strikers: Jozy Altidore (20, Villarreal, 24), Edson Buddle (29, Los Angeles Galaxy, 1), Robbie Findley (24, Real Salt Lake, 4), Herculez Gomez (28, Puebla, 2).Reuse content