There are multiple groups in the 2014 World Cup where high-profile national teams will be seriously tested. In most cases, there are three good teams and one potential spoiler. But in the "Group of Death," Group G, there won't be a single easy match.
Germany and Portugal, which arrived to Brazil as the sides expected to advance, caught a tough break by drawing Ghana and the United States. All four teams can plot a path to the knockout stages without being unrealistic.
The Mannschaft and Seleccao may still advance, but they will likely have to work much harder than their fellow top contenders to do so. With that in mind, let's check out predictions and a preview for how Group G will play out in Brazil.
Fixtures and Predictions
|June 16||Germany vs. Portugal||2-0 GER|
|June 16||Ghana vs. United States||2-1 USA|
|June 21||Germany vs. Ghana||3-1 GER|
|June 22||United States vs. Portugal||1-1|
|June 26||United States vs. Germany||1-0 GER|
|June 26||Portugal vs. Ghana||2-1 POR|
Group G Preview
Germany will begin the tournament as one of the top four title contenders. Brazil, Argentina and Spain are the other three. If the Mannschaft live up to that championship standard to advance, it will leave one spot in the knockout rounds for the other three teams.
There were some question marks leading up to the tournament. The side was dealing with some injury woes after club campaigns, but Karolos Grohmann of the Daily Mail passed along comments from head coach Joachim Low, who remained confident:
We will travel to Brazil with a competitive and good team. The players are working very well and as it stands now I am very satisfied. Some are still injured and cannot fully train with the team but they are all training individually and I am very confident that it will work out.
A lot more should be known after the first day of play in Group G. The opening set of fixtures features the marquee matchup of Germany and Portugal while Ghana and the United States, which have developed a rivalry over the past two World Cups, face off again.
It's probably not the way Germany or Portugal wanted to start the stage. If either Ghana or the United States is able to earn all three points from their match and one of the favorites to advance loses, they will immediately be under immense pressure for the final two group matches.
That's a reality most likely to face Portugal. The Seleccao have perhaps the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, but there are still concerns about the squad around him. They certainly can't match the overall combination of depth and talent on the German side.
Those questions about depth also explain the projections from ESPN's Soccer Power Index, as passed along by Paul Carr, which show Portugal as only a slight favorite to move on:
SPI odds to advance, Group G: Germany 91.8%, Portugal 40.2%, #USMNT 39.3%, Ghana 28.8%.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) December 6, 2013
United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann made the decision to leave squad stalwart Landon Donovan off the final roster. It was a polarizing decision because of his place among American soccer greats, but it had become clear he wasn't likely to play a major role under the German head coach.
It puts more pressure on Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore to lead the attack. The tournament could also serve as a chance for Michael Bradley to shine in the middle of the pitch. He had his moments four years ago, he's ready to take the next step.
The real question mark is on defense. Klinsmann has tried several different combinations at the back with middling results. If everything finally clicks, the U.S. has a good chance to advance, but they could also get blown away if the struggles pop up again.
Which two teams will advance?
Finally, Ghana will find itself in good shape if it can score another win over the U.S. The Black Stars have had the Americans' number over the past two World Cups, but they have remained relatively steady while the U.S. has taken a step or two forward.
While Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari lead a solid group of veterans, Ghana is another side where depth may be an issue, especially on defense. It's fair to wonder whether it will be able to slow down the United States, let alone a team like Germany.
Ultimately, the Germans should advance pretty steadily. Based on the predictions above, the United States will secure the second spot in the knockout stages on goal differential over Portugal.
It should be a very intriguing couple of weeks in Group G, regardless of which two teams survive the "Group of Death."