Much of the hype preceding Friday’s 2014 World Cup draw was the possibility of the United States men’s national team being drawn into a “group of death.”
Well, that is exactly what happened to the U.S. as they were drawn into group G with Germany, Ghana and Portugal.
Here is a breakdown of each of the USA’s group stage opponents.
The U.S. will open the 2014 World Cup against Ghana—the same team that ended the U.S. World Cup runs in 2006 and 2010. The reaction to drawing this familiar foe from U.S. fans ran the gamut, with some excited at the prospect of exorcising old demons and some terrified of what the Black Stars’ combination of speed and skill will do to the U.S.’ inexperienced and unproven defense.
In the 2006 World Cup, the U.S. went into the final game of the group stage needing a win against Ghana to advance to the knockout round, but they fell 2-1. In 2010, the U.S. faced Ghana in the Round of 16 only three days after its exhilarating win over Algeria in the final game of the group-stage play. Once again, the U.S. lost 2-1.
Beyond those two direct meetings at the World Cup, the U.S.-Ghana rivalry has surfaced in other ways. In the 2012 U-20 World Cup, the U.S. was utterly dominated by Ghana, losing 4-1. And, in 2014 World Cup qualifying, Egypt, coached by former American coach Bob Bradley, lost to Ghana 7-3 in a home-and-home playoff.
Ghana’s attack in 2014 World Cup qualifying was led by Asamoah Gyan—the same player who put the nail in the U.S.’ coffin in extra time in 2010.
While some might be relishing the chance of this rematch, this game—arguably the easiest of the U.S.’ group-stage opponents—will be very difficult to say the least.
On June 21, the U.S. will face its second opponent in the group stage, Portugal. Of course, when talking Portugal, one must discuss megastar Cristiano Ronaldo. It would be very difficult to argue that Ronaldo is not the best player in the world at the moment, and whether he plays on the right or left side, he will likely give the U.S. defense fits.
The U.S. squad is its weakest at outside back, and U.S. fans cannot be savoring the prospect of Brad Evans or DaMarcus Beasley having to match up 1 v 1 against Ronaldo on the wing.
The U.S. has a World Cup past with Portugal as well, going back to 2002 when the U.S. got out to a 3-0 lead before a final 3-2 victory over the heavily favored Portuguese side in group play.
The other nightmare scenario of the game against the Portuguese is that it is in Manaus, far from the rest of the World Cup venues and in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
Perhaps the long travel for the second and third games will be a bonus to a U.S. squad used to making such lengthy journeys for games, but nearly 9,000 miles for three games over 10 days would be difficult in and of itself, not even considering the quality of the U.S. opponents.
If the U.S. is still alive in group play headed into their final game on June 26, they will have the unenviable task of taking on Germany. Besides the storyline of U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann taking on his former team, this matchup also has a history.
In the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT made its most successful run since 1930, making it to the quarterfinals before bowing out to the Germans. In that quarterfinal matchup, the U.S. dominated long stretches of play and even outshot the Germans 11-6.
However, a string of saves by German keeper Oliver Kahn and a handball by German defender Torsten Frings on the goalline kept the U.S. out of the net and the Germans won the match 1-0.
This summer, the U.S. and the Germany played again, with the U.S. coming out on top 4-3. The win started a 12-game winning streak for the U.S. that culminated with a Gold Cup championship and a win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Europe.
The Germans qualified for the World Cup with an impressive 28 points from 10 games in UEFA qualifying and, in the process, beat Austria twice—a team the U.S. lost to last month. The German attack is led by a virtual who’s who of world football, including Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Miroslav Klose, Thomas Muller and Andre Schurrle among many, many others.
They are led by Klinsmann-protégé Joachim Low, who many argue was the real genius behind Germany’s third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup under Klinsmann.
ESPN put the U.S.’ chance of advancement out of the group at 39.3%, which might seem exceedingly optimistic considering the challenges the U.S. will face.
However, the U.S. has proven repeatedly in the recent past that it tends to take an odd enjoyment out of the challenge of playing world powerhouses, especially in the World Cup. In 1994, the U.S. beat Colombia, which was one of the favorites to win the tournament and put in a great effort to eventual champions Brazil in the Round of 16, before losing 1-0. And while 1998 was an unmitigated disaster, the 2002 World Cup performances against Portugal, Mexico and Germany were all inspiring. In 2006, the U.S. saved its best for Italy and in 2010 the U.S. won its group over traditional world powerhouse England.
With the right combination of skill, luck, motivation and inspiration, the U.S. may be able to survive this “group of death.”
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