The USA will start their 2014 World Cup campaign on Monday and face a daunting task in Group G, having been drawn with Ghana, Portugal and a German team many are counting on to go all the way.
That's not to say they don't have a chance of progressing to the knockout stages—it just won't be easy. Preparations have been rocky for all three of the USA's opponents, and if ever there was a time for the American team to truly announce their arrival on the grand stage of world football, this would be it.
The schedule has also been kind on the team, so let's have a look at what the USA will be facing in Brazil:
|2014 World Cup USA Fixture Schedule|
|Opponent||Date||Local Time||Time (ET)||Time (BST)|
|Ghana||Mon, June 16||7 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Portugal||Sun, June 22||6 p.m.||6 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Germany||Thur, June 26||1 p.m.||Noon||5 p.m.|
The Americans know the Ghanaians well—they've lost to the Black Stars in the last two World Cups, and it twice turned out to be the last match the USA would play.
This isn't the same Ghanaian team, however. While the Americans have somewhat come of age since those two losses, Ghana's golden generation has passed, and the Ghanaians are currently undergoing a rebuild, as shared by Squawka:
That's not to say the Black Stars aren't talented—they undoubtedly are. Kwadwo Asamoah is probably the biggest star these days, while the Americans are already familiar with Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who both scored in the round of 16 match in 2010.
Ghana's 6-1 demolition of Egypt to make it to the finals was impressive, but the team has had its ups and downs since then. Losses against the Netherlands and Montenegro were followed by a resounding 4-0 win over Korea Republic, and the Black Stars appear to have hit the right gear at just the right time.
The team's biggest strength lies in its powerful, athletic midfield, who are as technically adept as they are dangerous on the counter. They aren't used to teams dominating the ball for large spells and can lose focus on set pieces, and if the USA can score first, losing the threat of the counter could prove to be the difference.
The Portuguese team isn't just "Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest," but let's not kid ourselves—any team that fields the Ballon d'Or winner will build its tactics around him.
When Ronaldo sat out the first few friendlies Portugal played in preparation of the tournament, the team struggled. A draw against Greece and a last-minute win over Mexico had people worried, but when Ronaldo returned against Ireland, a 5-1 win wiped out any memories of those earlier struggles.
Portugal lack a clear identity—they're extremely athletic and dangerous on the counter, but they won't just fold back and let the other team hold the ball. They can lose focus for large spells of the match and allow themselves to be lulled to sleep, only to explode and score two or three goals in the span of minutes.
The duo of William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho make for a strong presence in the centre of the pitch, while Pepe and Fabio Coentrao lead a back line that won't be outmuscled by anyone.
The USA's biggest advantage is the fact the Portuguese will be playing Germany first, and Die Mannschaft's ball-heavy approach will have the Portuguese team moving for the full 90 minutes. Ronaldo isn't 100 percent healthy coming into the tournament, and fatigue could be a factor in the harsh climate of Manaus.
The Germans are the favourites in Group G, but they have some worries coming into the tournament. Injuries and a lack of form for some of the top players held the team back during preparations for the World Cup, and this talented group of players is facing some real pressure.
Germany ruled the football world last season, with Bayern Munich facing off against Borussia Dortmund in the final of the UEFA Champions League. This year, it was a different story, as Dortmund were rocked by injuries and Bayern were rocked by an unleashed Real Madrid team.
What the past season did to the Germans' confidence is a question that can't be answered until we actually see them play, and given the insanely deep pool of players Joachim Loew gets to pick his players from, there's a good chance it won't affect them at all.
Miroslav Klose is the only real striker in the squad, and it looks like the Germans will set out to do what they do best—put a lot of bodies in midfield and dominate possession. The Germans always move well on the pitch, and their full-backs are very active and very dangerous.
But with form and injuries already a concern for the team, two matches against physical opponents like Portugal and Ghana could take their toll on the squad. The Germans have a deep group of players to choose from, but a team can only take so many hits.
If form and fitness are a concern, and the Germans are forced to move deep into the USA's half, the counter-attack becomes the Americans' weapon of choice.
The Italians drew the Germans out beautifully during the semi-finals of Euro 2012, and while Clint Dempsey is no Mario Balotelli, there's no reason to think it couldn't work again.