Victory will dominate the thoughts of both Slovenia and USA on Friday as they meet for the first time, with the former assured a Round of 16 spot if they prevail and the latter capable of taking their own big step in the same direction. A draw would ratchet up the suspense in Group C ahead of the last round of games, but both sides will feel equipped to emerge triumphant, Slovenia having beaten Algeria 1-0 to clinch their first ever FIFA World Cup™ success and the Stars and Stripes high on confidence following their 1-1 stalemate with England.
"From now on, we know that we're capable of putting pressure on our opponents," said Robert Koren after the Algeria win, revealing the humility and ambition at the heart of the Slovenia squad. His country's captain, the West Bromwich Albion midfielder struck the winning goal against Les Fennecs and now has his sights set firmly on reaching the knockout phase. "There are still two matches to go, though, and lots of points to be taken if we want to get out of the group stage."
The European side clearly feel they have the tools to trouble their opponents, but belief is also high in the US camp. "When you see everyone in the dressing room disappointed after our match against England, that says a lot about our performance," said Landon Donovan in the wake of their opening encounter. England goalkeeper Robert Green may have given the CONCACAF side a helping hand, but Bob Bradley's troops were generally impressive against Fabio Capello's group favourites.
Up front, Jozy Altindore and Clint Dempsey – rich from their Premier League experiences – were both lively figures, combining speed, mobility and technique. Meanwhile, alongside courageous captain Carlos Bocanegra at the back, central defenders Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu contributed rigour, power and good positioning. This US team are a far cry from that which took just a single point at Germany 2006.
Players to watch
Marko Suler v Clint Dempsey
Having found the net against England, Fulham forward Dempsey will be eager to impress again but will need to escape the attentions of Gent stopper Marko Suler. An imposing figure noted for his intelligent positioning and tidy distribution, the former Gorica favourite put up imperious resistance to keep Algeria at bay and has been integral to coach Matjaz Kek's plans for the last two years now. Dempsey will head into the match bubbling with confidence and in searing form, however, despite a long club season with UEFA Europa League finalists Fulham.
6 – The number of points Slovenia would boast if they come out on top on Friday, enough to secure their progress after merely two outings. That would represent an exceptional achievement for a country with just two million inhabitants, particularly since they departed Korea/Japan 2002 without a single point on the board.
What they said
"I often hear people say we should qualify for the next round and that we were drawn in an easy group, but we know that nothing is guaranteed. We can't afford to take Slovenia lightly. In the next few days, we'll need to look back at everything that didn't work [against England]," Landon Donovan, United States forward.
"They put in a great team performance against England. We've studied their strengths and weaknesses with our coach. We often have trouble finding our bearings before we play a tight game, but we now know what we’re capable of in a big competition," Robert Koren, Slovenia midfielder.
Voice of the fans
"I'm going for the USA. Yes, Slovenia beat Algeria, but that was due to Les Fennecs’ goalkeeper. [Tim] Howard won't let himself be beaten so easily and Donovan and [Michael] Bradley will show who the legends of America are," Waku J (France).
Will the United States be able to replicate their high-quality display against England? Will Slovenia prove more effective going forward than against Algeria?