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The contenders: England

England captain Rio Ferdinand, center, was joined by

England captain Rio Ferdinand, center, was joined by Wayne Rooney, left, and Ashley Cole at Niketown London as they said their farewells to their fans before departing for South Africa. (June 2, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

Our countdown continues of the top-ranked teams heading into the World Cup.

So far, we previewed: 9) France

Our list continues with none other than the United States' very first opponent:


Group: C - United States, Algeria, Slovenia

World Cup history: 1 title (1966); The Three Lions are hungry for another title after so many frustrating exits through the years. England has been eliminated on penalty kicks in two of the last three tournaments.

5 key players: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), John Terry (Chelsea), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

>> Read about England's stars and other players to watch at the 2010 World Cup

Coach: Fabio Capello

Outlook: After its embarrassing failure to qualify for Euro 2008, England got angry. It went 9-0-1 in World Cup qualifying and scored 3.4 goals per game -- tops in the world. The Three Lions once again have all the talent to succeed at the tournament, pulling all of its players from one of the top leagues in the world -- The Premiership. But, its shaky performances in the past have haunted its wary fan base.

England will rely on forward Wayne Rooney, who's one of the best in the world at willing his way to goal and finishing the job. The world-class striker had a long season with Man United with a few injuries along the way, but is committed to delivering for his homeland after a disappointing tournament four years ago in Germany. If England were to fizzle again, however, the blame wouldn't fall entirely on his shoulders -- despite what Nike would have you believe.

John Terry and Rio Ferdinand (UPDATE: Ferdinand will miss the World Cup due to a ligament damage. Ledley King will likely start in his place.) share the defensive duties in the middle, though Terry has suffered a slip in form since his infamous sex scandal. Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson are excellent options on the left and right flanks, respectively.

Frank Lampard -- coming off a stellar season for Chelsea -- and Steven Gerrard -- not the case at Liverpool -- lead the midfield corps, though some question their ability to coexist in the middle. Gareth Barry -- if healthy -- can adopt the defensive midfield role, freeing up Lampard and others to create with the help of speedy Aaron Lennon on the wing.

There are plenty of reasons to worry, but most teams would love to have a lineup like this despite some interesting omissions by head coach Fabio Capello, who told Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott to stay home. The former Italian player decided to rely on his veterans en route to assembling the oldest England team (average age - 28.7) since 1954.

Prediction: England will take Group C, though they won't sweep through unscathed.

Goalkeepers: David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham), Joe Hart (Manchester City).

Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa).

Midfielders: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), James Milner (Aston Villa), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Gareth Barry (Manchester City).

Strikers: Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham).


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