When the World Cup begin on June 12, Group G has the toughest teams, which makes chances for a U. S. success up in the air
By Mary Cunningham
Group G was the headliner when the balls were picked and the draw was announced back in December. And not only because it featured the United States. It was considered the “Group of Death” by many neutrals, as all four countries have experience in the knockout stages – and all four have the talent to get back there this year. Germany are one of the favorites to win the trophy, while Portugal have perhaps the world’s most recognizable player. Throw in the presence of the United States and the most successful African side in recent World Cups, and it’s a must-watch group.
Germany: Always one of the trophy contenders, Germany were bounced in the semifinal of both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Once again, though, they are a major threat to win the championship. They didn’t lose in the qualification stage, scoring 36 goals in 10 games. There is talent and depth across the board, with the starting XI far from set due to the quality from which Joachim Loew has to choose. There are veterans, there is youth – and there are very few weaknesses. A fourth World Cup for Germany is certainly not out of the question.
Portugal: Ranked No. 3 in the FIFA World Cup rankings, Portugal are hoping to follow the recipe they used in Euro 2012: struggle through qualification and then make a deep run once the competition begins. They lost in penalty kicks to Spain in the 2012 semifinals, and have the personnel to advance to at least the quarterfinals again. All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo, as he will look to carry his country in the competition. Without his hat-trick against Sweden in the second leg of the UEFA playoffs back in November, Portugal might not even be here.
United States: The storylines surrounding the USMNT’s run-up to the World Cup changed completely when manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man squad he was taking Brazil. As you’ve heard by now, Landon Donovan – the best U.S. national team player ever – was left out of the team. Suddenly, the expectations and pressure on Klinsmann has grown. It’s not something he hasn’t felt before, though. When Klinsmann first took over at the helm of the USMNT, he lost four of his first six matches. However, they lost just one of their final nine qualification matches and finished atop the Hexagonal group. They won’t be the most talented team in Group G, but they’re still a tough-minded group that makes up for playmaking limitations with impressive workrate. Without Donovan, Jozy Altidore needs to regain the form he had during qualification, while someone needs to step up as a consistent threat in the midfield. The defense has some questions, too, especially against the speed of some of their group opponents.
Ghana: The United States’ arch nemesis. The Black Stars have knocked the USMNT out of two straight World Cups, while also making impressive runs in each one. In 2006, they reached the knockout stage before losing to Brazil – then took it a step further in 2010, advancing to the quarterfinals before falling in penalty kicks to Uruguay. They had the best goal differential of any African team in qualification, scoring 18 goals in six games – before taking care of Egypt over the course of two legs, 7-3. There are well-known players throughout midfielder, led by Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah. Don’t count them out.
The key players
Mesut Ozil: Germany have a long list of playmakers and attackers at their disposal, but Ozil is the one that makes it all happen from his position as the No. 10. Widely regarded as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, Ozil has had an up-and-down campaign since leaving Real Madrid for Arsenal back during the summer transfer window. He led Germany in goals and assists during qualification.
Cristiano Ronaldo: One of the top two players in the world, Portugal’s hopes lie entirely on the shoulders of Ronaldo. He is capable of carrying them to big wins, as evidenced by the aforementioned three-goal performance against Sweden in the second leg of the UEFA qualifying playoff. Ronaldo has netted 50 goals this season for Real Madrid, and will need more of the same in the World Cup.
Michael Bradley: Bradley missed time in April with an injury, but he has returned for Toronto FC and will be an integral part of the USMNT midfield when they go to Brazil. His decision to leave Roma for the MLS raised some eyebrows, but he was able to get plenty of minutes to prepare for the World Cup. He’s a box-to-box midfielder who transitions effectively from defense to offense.
Asamoah Gyan: Back in 2012, Gyan announced he was retiring from international football. He was coming off a missed penalty kick in the African Cup of Nations that led to Ghana’s 1-0 semifinal loss. Two years earlier, Gyan missed a penalty kick in extra time against Uruguay – forcing a penalty shootout that Ghana lost. But he’s back in the squad and is also the captain. Not surprisingly, he was Ghana’s leading scorer in qualification.
How the group should play out
This should be fun. Two of the top three countries in the FIFA rankings, plus the United States and perhaps the most potent African squad. Storylines like Jurgen Klinsmann facing the team he used to manage, the United States against the country that has knocked them out of back-to-back World Cups, and Cristiano Ronaldo looking to cement his spot in international soccer lore. Germany is the favorite to win the group, although the opening match between Germany and Portugal could determine how each side plays going forward. The United States can’t afford to lose their opener against Ghana, but I think their outside backs will have a world of trouble against Ronaldo in the second match and Germany’s attackers in the third match. I’m going with Germany to win the group and Portugal to advance to the knockout stage.