OF COURSE, IT won't be easy.

It's never easy for the United States when it comes to competing in the World Cup.

But the USA got a good draw for World Cup 2010 in June in South Africa.

The Red, White and Blue got a tough opener against England on June 12 in Rustenburg. But overall, playing in Group C, which includes Slovenia (June 18 in Johannesburg) and Algeria (June 23 in Tshwane/Pretoria), could be the most favorable draw ever.

Coming off a disheartening performance at World Cup 2006 where it went 0-2-1 and failed to move out of group play, Team USA is looking to replicate the quarterfinal appearance it made at World Cup 2002.

This draw sets up the United States to make that kind of run.

England, which is one of the top eight seeds, is the favorite in Group C.

The Three Lions will bring a talented, veteran squad that likely will include stars like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Jermain DeFoe and Rio Ferdinand.

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham may or may not get to make his World Cup swan song. Despite his popularity, an aging Becks is a longshot to be in coach Fabio Capello's plans.

But England, as always, comes to the World Cup with expectations that will place a great deal of pressure on the players and coach.

The nation that created the sport won its only Cup in 1966, and a half-century drought has the nationals eager to raise the trophy.

But the intense scrutiny has affected English teams in the past, and a flat effort in the opener is not out of the realm of possibility.

The United States should field a squad strong enough to capitalize if England is not in top form.

A victory would not be as shocking as the United States' 1-0 victory over England in 1950, which is still considered one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, but it would be a huge start for the Americans.

The USA has newfound confidence and respect after beating No. 1-ranked Spain and coming close to upsetting Brazil in the championship game of the Confederations Cup last summer.

A core group of players like Clint Dempsey, Jose Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Tim Howard are gaining valuable experience playing in high-caliber leagues in Europe.

That, coupled with the rising caliber of play in Major League Soccer, should make this the most capable United States roster ever.

The United States is 2-7 all-time against England, losing the latest matchup, 2-0, last year at Wembley Stadium.

Even if the USA, which is ranked 14th by FIFA, can't get a positive result against England (ninth), it should be strong enough to finish ahead of Slovenia, which is in just its second World Cup, and Algeria, which is in its third.

Both Slovenia (33rd) and Algeria (27th) needed to win playoffs to qualify for the Cup.

The United States has never played Algeria or Slovenia.

Algeria's greatest and worst moments came at its first World Cup in 1982.

The squad seemed capable of becoming the first African nation to qualify for the knockout stage after stunning West Germany with a victory in group play.

But in the final game, West Germany and friendly neighbor Austria conspired to produce a result that ensured both would advance over the "Desert Foxes."

The "Austro-German" scandal caused FIFA to change its rules and require all final matches in group play to kick off simultaneously.

Algeria beat Africa champion and archrival Egypt in a three-match qualifying playoff to make World Cup 2010.

As part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia made eight World Cup appearances and finished fourth in 1950 and 1962.

As Slovenia, the smallest nation to qualify made its first appearance at a major international event at Europe 2000. It made its World Cup debut in 2002 but exited without recording a point.

An upset over Russia by goal-differential in their playoff series booked Slovenia's trip to South Africa.

Frankly, if the United States does not finish at least second in the group and advance to the knockout stage, it will be the most disappointing World Cup since its 0-3 effort at France 1998.

Top-ranked and reigning European champion Spain is the favorite, but the Spanish must overcome their personal history of underachievement in major tournaments and the fact that no European nation has won a World Cup not played in Europe.

Spain should easily win Group H against Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.

Five-time champion Brazil is in the "Group of Death" with Portugal, the Ivory Coast and North Korea. Group G is the only one with three teams ranked in the top 18.

Still, the Brazilians should be a cinch to make it out of group play.

Reigning world champion Italy also has to be pleased with its Group F draw of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

With France, Uruguay and Mexico also in Group A, South Africa is in danger of becoming the first host nation not to advance to the knockout round.

"Bafana Bafana" starts the fun against Mexico on June 11, 2010. *

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