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USA World Cup Draw 2014: Analyzing USMNT's Road to Knockout Stage

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States Men's National Team heads the ball against the Germany Men's National Team in an international friendly at RFK Stadium on June 2, 2013  in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2013

When the 2014 World Cup Draw went live on Friday, fans of the United States men's national team waited with bated breath that the Americans might draw a favorable group. 

They didn't. 

Photo via Bleacher Report

Instead, optimism for a memorable run on the world's largest stage wavered as the Americans drew a dreaded "group of death" that includes Germany, Ghana and Portugal. According to MLSSoccer.com's Ben Jata, the group boasts the highest average FIFA ranking:

However, that doesn't mean that the U.S. are eliminated just yet. As Paul Carr of ESPN notes, the USMNT still holds the third best odds in the group according to Soccer Power Index numbers:

Here's a look at each of the opponents that the U.S. will see in the group stage as they fight to survive a difficult draw. 

 

Germany

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02:  Stefan Reinartz #3 of the Germany Men's National Team handles the ball against the United States Men's National Team in an international friendly at RFK Stadium on June 2, 2013  in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Ima
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

FIFA Rank: 2

World Cup Appearances: 17

Best Results: three championships (1954, '74, '90)

Of all the nations that the United States could have been placed into a group with, Germany may have been the worst-case scenario. The Germans are ranked No. 2 in the FIFA world rankings and placed third in the 2012 Euro championships behind a perfect showing in group play. 

The Germans have also racked up a perfect record in World Cup qualifying in 2013, including a 2-1 win over France and 1-0 win over England. 

With one of the most dominant squads in international competition, it's easy to see why the SPI in Carr's tweet gives Germany about a 90 percent chance to advance. But as Ian Darke points out, Germany's dominance could have its benefits for the U.S.

 

Portugal

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Pepe of Portugal celebrates after Cristiano Rondaldo scores during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group F match between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park on September 6, 2013 in Belfast, Northern
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

FIFA Rank: 5

World Cup Appearances: 6

Best Results: Third-place (1966)

Portugal not only feature one of the top two players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, but they are considered one of the top five teams in the world by FIFA's ranking. 

Of course, those rankings aren't gospel. There are flaws in the rating system, and Portugal are beatable. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the USMNT has already upset A Selecao once in World Cup play:

Portugal earned their way onto the World Cup stage by way of beating Sweden 4-2 on aggregate in a UEFA playoff. As the smaller of the two giants in the USMNT's pool, finding a way to at least play Portugal to a draw will be vital to advancing to the knockout round. 

 

Ghana

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 10:  Yusif Raman Chibsah of Ghana in action during the international friendly match between Japan and Ghana at International Stadium Yokohama on September 10, 2013 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

FIFA Rank: 24

World Cup Appearances: 3

Best Results: Quarterfinals (2010)

Oh, Ghana... 

Despite a general lower ranking and the lack of an illustrious career in World Cup play, Ghana have been a death knell for the U.S. As SportsCenter reminds us, the USMNT has a history with Ghana at the World Cup, and it isn't pretty:

Personal history aside, this is the most winnable matchup that the Americans will see in group play. Ghana struggled in the Africa Cup of Nations with a third-place finish after losing 3-1 to Mali and had a relatively easy road in World Cup qualification. 

If the Americans can't open up World Cup play with a win over Ghana, their run in the tournament will be over before it starts. 

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