FIFA World Cup Group G: Previews and Predictions for All Three USMNT Matches
The U.S. men's national team's first World Cup group match is nearly upon us. The friendlies are in the books, with the U.S. getting a nice boost after a 2-1 win over Nigeria in their final tune-up.
The U.S. embark on a treacherous group stage starting Monday, June 16, against familiar foes Ghana.
While the U.S. won three straight World Cup send-offs (2-0 over Azerbaijan, 2-1 over Turkey and the win over Nigeria), things will be far more competitive once they line up against the Black Stars in Natal.
Ghana have dispatched the U.S. in the past two World Cups: In 2010, they eliminated the U.S. directly after a 2-1 extra-time victory in the round of 16, while in 2006, the U.S. lost their final group game to Ghana (also 2-1), allowing the Black Stars and Italy to go through to the knockout stage.
Germany and Portugal also lay in wait for the in-form U.S in Group G.
In the current FIFA rankings, the U.S. sit at 13th; Ghana come in at 37, with the formidable Portuguese at No. 4 and Germany at No. 2.
Some key injuries for Germany and Portugal could have an impact on Group G:
The stage is set. It's a group that forces the U.S. to face their World Cup mortality from the opening whistle.
Let's chart a course for the Yanks as they prepare for Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
USA vs. Ghana, Natal
The U.S. face Ghana for the third straight World Cup, and it's safe to say this is something of a star-crossed football rivalry at this point.
The Black Stars have had the Americans' number but haven't had the best run of form heading into the World Cup. They lost the African Cup of Nations to Libya on penalties in February and have only played three other friendlies this calendar year.
The Ghanese lost to both Montenegro (No. 51 FIFA Rankings) and the Netherlands 1-0 before soundly defeating Group H competitors South Korea in their last World Cup tune-up 4-0.
Ghana's centerpiece will again be striker Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), who has scored 40 times in 79 caps including twice against the U.S. in the World Cup (the second, an extra-time goal that sealed the Yanks' fate in 2010).
Michael Essien (AC Milan) has returned to the fold for Ghana after being ruled out in 2010. Other familiar names are Kevin-Prince Boateng (FC Schalke), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan, 20 goals, 82 caps) and Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus).
The Ghanaians have a good mix of youth and experience as well as many players from Europe's top leagues. The U20s won the World Cup in 2009, and players like the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan, both play for Marseille) will need to be reckoned with—Jordan registered a hat-trick against South Korea.
The U.S. have looked good in their tune-ups and seemed to have shrugged off Landon Donovan's snub rather well.
Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) regained his scoring touch with two goals against Nigeria, and Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) has been a force in midfield despite downgrading from Serie A to MLS this past year.
There are some questions on the Americans' back line, as only wing-back DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla) has a World Cup pedigree.
Look for a tight first half from both sides with play opening up in the second.
Ghana will score first through Gyan or one of the Ayews, but the U.S. will get goals from Dempsey and either Altidore or super-sub Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) to turn the scoreline around on the Black Stars.
USA 2, Ghana 1
USA vs. Portugal, Manaus
Ghana isn't the only team the U.S. have World Cup history with: The U.S. faced both Portugal and Germany in the 2002 World Cup.
In 2002, the U.S. shocked a Luis Figo-led Portugal, one of the tournament favorites, with a 3-2 win in their opening group-stage match. The U.S. famously led 3-0 in that game before Portugal fought back (one of the goals was a gift from Jeff Agoos).
Of course, that's if the Ballon d'Or winner's nagging injuries don't render him a non-factor.
Portugal also have their share of older legs on the squad, with 12 of their 23 players at age 29 or above (Ronaldo is 29).
A Selecao's defense is big and physical with Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce) and Pepe (Real Madrid), but it also has the technical skill of Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid).
The midfield is stacked with Nani (Manchester United), Joao Moutinho (AS Monaco) and Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce).
The Amazon venue of Manaus promises to be a factor as well.
Look for a physical contest with a lot of bookings as the players try to contend with the conditions. Portugal will lead most of the way after Ronaldo beats Tim Howard (Everton) early. Sub Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar) will open his World Cup account with a stoppage-time equalizer.
USA 1, Portugal 1
USA vs. Germany, Recife
The USA's toughest Group G task will be against Die Mannschaft, three-time winners of the tournament. The Germans have not lifted the trophy since 1990 and are considered favorites behind Brazil (11-4), Argentina (4-1) and level with Spain (6-1).
The U.S. deserved better than their 1-0 loss to the Germans in the quarterfinal of the 2002 World Cup, as only a Torsten Frings handball off the line prevented the U.S. from equalizing:
Germany's 2014 squad is an embarrassment of riches, with the likes of Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), captain Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) and others.
The Germans are so confident in their star-studded midfield that they only brought one true striker in the form of the still-lethal Miroslav Klose (Lazio, 36 years old, 69 goals in 132 caps).
Jurgen Klinsmann is a consummate professional, but will his allegiances be torn in this match or will his knowledge of the German system give him an edge?
The third match of the group stage is always dramatic, and if the U.S. manage to get four points out of their first two matches, will Klinsmann park the bus and hope for a draw?
The Germans rarely muck about in any competitive arena (1982 notwithstanding), so despite the loss of key player Marco Reus, look for the U.S. to get a bit of comeuppance in this one.
A Lukas Podolski (Arsenal) goal in the first half will be canceled out by a Bradley finish only to see Muller bag two in succession in the second stanza. Without some help from a twice-beaten Ghana team, the U.S. will finish third in the Group Of Death.
Germany 3, USA 1
So sad for Uncle Sam's Army in what will be a spirited showing, but as 250-1 long shots to win the famed Cup, we can't blame Klinsmann for his lack of optimism.
Odds courtesy of Oddschecker.