10 Key Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group G
An entertaining second round of matches in Group G on Sunday threw up a pair of 2-2 draws for both Ghana vs. Germany and the United States vs. Portugal, and there is still everything to play for in the “Group of Death” in the 2014 World Cup.
Arguably the best 45 minutes in the tournament thus far saw Mario Gotze and Miroslav Klose score for the Germans, while Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan netted for the Black Stars.
Silvestre Varela salvaged a last-gasp draw for Portugal after Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey appeared to have clinched a remarkable comeback win for the USA. Nani had scored Portugal’s first goal in the opening minutes of the match.
As it stands, Germany and the United States both find themselves on four points and in first and second place in the group, respectively. Ghana and Portugal, while both on a point apiece, aren’t completely out of the running for the knockout stages just yet. All four sides are still capable of qualifying for the round of 16.
So, Thursday will be an intriguing day for all four teams as well as their fans.
Here are 10 key factors that will decide how Group G turns out—complete with the possible scenarios that each team needs in order to qualify for the round of 16.
Miroslav Klose, Germany’s Record-Holder
Going into the third set of matches, Germany find themselves in the most comfortable position out of the four teams: They need just a point to secure top spot and qualification for the knockout stages and goal difference means it would be hard for them to be eliminated even if they lose against the USA.
So will it be a case of resting his troops for Joachim Low? Well, when you have the luxury of bringing on players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andre Schurrle or Lukas Podolski off the bench, it shouldn’t really be considered “resting”—“squad rotation” is perhaps more apt.
That Miroslav Klose, arguably the Germans’ sole out-and-out striker in their 23-man squad, is also available as a substitute is also a testament to the impressive strength in depth of Low’s charges—Klose only tied Ronaldo’s all-time World Cup goals record with his close-range finish against Ghana.
Will Low be tempted to give him a start against the USA, or will Klose be called on from the bench again? Either way, Jurgen Klinsmann knows all about Klose’s abilities, and the Americans will know that it’s not exactly easy to stop him from sniffing in the penalty area.
We could be seeing a new World Cup record goalscorer by the end of Thursday.
Or Thomas Muller, Klose’s Heir-in-Waiting?
Before Klose gets too excited about a possible chance to break Ronaldo’s record, there’s the small matter of his ready-made successor in the form of Germany’s No. 13, Thomas Muller.
Muller hit a hat-trick in Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal in the first round, taking his World Cup goal tally to eight. At just 24 years of age with at least two more World Cups to go, Muller might already be Germany’s likeliest candidate to succeed Klose’s phenomenal record.
That Muller is Germany’s chief threat is both testament to his effervescent running and ability to ghost into goalscoring positions, as well as a reflection of his outstanding movement on and off the ball.
Clint Dempsey’s Continuing Clutch Acts
In Clint Dempsey, the USA have their own version of a big-game player. Dempsey has already netted in both of the Americans’ group-stage matches so far, each proving pivotal goals in the context of the results.
A consummate team player with impressive work ethic, Dempsey embodies the USA's team-first approach in this tournament and has established himself as the focal point and undisputed star of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad.
And Sam Parker of Squawka.com highlighted the importance of Dempsey to the USA's win over Ghana in their first match of the tournament, noting his contributions all over the pitch:
It was Dempsey’s defensive work however that showed his commitment to the cause, with the forward getting back to make four clearances to help ease the pressure being put on them by the Ghana side, while he contributed one interception as well.
With Jozy Altidore out of contention against Portugal, Dempsey led the line and provided the penalty-box movement for what could’ve been the winning goal, a predatory finish that Muller and Klose would’ve been proud of.
He may yet provide the telling contributions that his teammates have now come to expect on Thursday.
German Organization vs. American Confidence
The amount of work and time put in to groom this Germany side over the years is apparent when witnessing their play this summer. Joachim Low has created a side rivaling the best of Germany’s lean, mean manufacturing machines, with just a tiny sprinkle of flair added to it.
The runs and passes that have come to define Germany’s hardworking but intelligent play have been evident in Group G thus far. With the help of Pepe’s dismissal in their opening match, the Germans' playing style picked Portugal apart at will, and it proved to be a match for Ghana’s more powerful style of play in their second fixture.
Contrast this with Jurgen Klinsmann’s young and raw side (even some seasoned professionals like Kyle Beckerman are played in their first-ever World Cup) and the confidence they are playing with, and we anticipate an intriguing clash of styles on Thursday.
On paper, without a doubt Germany have one of the strongest squads in all of the World Cup, yet the USA have underlined, together with the likes of Ecuador and Costa Rica, the importance of team ethic and confidence in their own abilities, with a coaching plan designed to foster and maximize such a mentality.
Jurgen Klinsmann vs. Joachim Low
So it’s a case of master vs. apprentice when the USA and Germany take to the field on Thursday. Klinsmann was, of course, Low’s predecessor in the Germany hot seat, and he presided over the youthful revolution that has seen Germany retake their place in the world footballing elite.
Low took over a side already beginning to show its potential, transformed them into genuine contenders and will be disappointed not to go far in this summer’s tournament. Meanwhile, Klinsmann has only just begun sowing the seeds for a similar kind of revolution in American football—but results have been encouraging.
More than on the sidelines on Thursday, the Klinsmann-Low battle may be waged on the training field, as both coaches prepare their teams for a final showdown. Low may not have expected a relatively unfancied American team to fight them all the way for a first-place finish, but here the USA are, looking at the top spot with a win over Germany.
But Klinsmann insists the two men will not be speaking before the game, as James Dobson of the Daily Star reports: "There will be no such call. We are good friends, but we are both here to do our jobs. There is no time right now to have friendship calls."
A draw on Thursday would see both of them go through, with Germany finishing the group stages in first place.
Portugal’s Incoherent Attack and Defence
Over to the other round three fixture in this group, where Portugal are in danger of exiting a World Cup they qualified for in such dramatic fashion.
Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, was the talisman who got his country into the World Cup finals in the first place, with a scintillating performance in the playoffs against Sweden. But Portugal’s overreliance on their captain has backfired spectacularly in Brazil.
Mainly because of his lack of fitness, but also because of the attacking and goalscoring burden he has to shoulder. Portugal’s other strikers, Hugo Almeida, Eder and Helder Postiga, are far from convincing options and in any case don’t have a seasoned track record at the highest level.
Then you have the volatile Pepe and the injured Fabio Coentrao depriving Paulo Bento of half of his first-choice four-man defence against the USA, and it’s no wonder they struggled so hard against a rampant Germany and could only scrape through with a draw in their second game.
Portugal began the tournament ranked No. 4 in the FIFA World Rankings but will surely slip down the pecking order after the World Cup. An uninspiring squad is deservedly last in the Group of Death.
Does Half-Fit Cristiano Ronaldo Have the X-Factor?
Before the World Cup finals began in earnest, Portugal were struck by news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s knee injury, which even threatened to rule him out of the tournament altogether.
Ronaldo has since fought his way back to play all 90 minutes in both games thus far, but it’s clear that he is some way off his best—and it doesn’t help that unlike in club football, he has no world-class teammates around him occupying the attentions of opposition defenders and creating space for him to run into.
We saw a glimpse of Ronaldo’s game-changing ability in the dying seconds of the USA-Portugal match, when the Portuguese captain swung in a brilliant cross to meet the diving header of Silvestre Varela to score a dramatic equalizer, but when it comes to Ronaldo, expectations these days are so much higher.
Will he be able to do the business to hand his country a win, especially if qualification is still achievable on Thursday?
Ghana’s Power and Goalscoring Strength
Battered and bruised, Portugal will be coming up against Ghana—arguably the best team from the African continent to take part in the 2014 World Cup—and will be looking to build on their loss against the USA and draw with Germany.
So far the Black Stars have proved to be tenacious and hard to beat: It took a late header from John Brooks for the Americans to get all three points, while Germany came up against a tough opponent in the 2-2 draw.
It comes down to the work ethic and attacking football that coach James Kwesi Appiah has instilled in his Black Stars, and it helps that has a few genuine goalscoring outlets at his disposal.
Andre Ayew has scored two goals and been Africa’s standout player in Brazil thus far, while captain Asamoah Gyan scored the goal that put Ghana 2-1 up against Germany and is a major threat up front.
Add in Christian Atsu’s pace and Kevin-Prince Boateng’s creativity, and this is a strong side capable of getting the win they need to qualify—pending the result of the United States-Germany game, of course.
A Set of Interesting Permutations
Here’s how Thursday can pan out in Group G.
Germany is the easiest and most straightforward case—a point and they’ll finish top and be through to the next round. Their lead in goal difference means that elimination is unlikely even if they lose to the USA.
The United States also only need a point to qualify for the knockout stages but will need to beat Germany to secure first place out of their group. If they lose to Germany but Portugal tie Ghana, they will still go through.
Ghana need, first and foremost, to beat Portugal, and then will be looking at the other fixture to throw up a favorable result. If Germany lose, Ghana need a five-goal swing in goal difference, but the Black Stars may well go through on goals scored if the USA lose: They need to either beat the same goal difference in any German win at a higher total score, or beat the goal margin outright.
Like their opponents on Thursday, Portugal need to win their round three game. If Germany lose, Portugal need an unlikely eight-goal swing in goal difference. If the USA lose, Portugal still need a five-goal swing.
For a more detailed breakdown of the group stage permutations and example scenarios, check out this ESPNFC feature.
Goal Difference May Play a Huge Part
As we saw from the previous slide, goal difference may come into play on Thursday, with the likeliest scenario being a USA loss and a Ghana win, which will be the ideal result for the Black Stars—if they score enough goals.
With a lean, mean, purring German machine looking to hand their leading strikers more goals on the board against the U.S., and a disjointed Portuguese defence as opponents, Ghana will be confident that they have the firepower to deliver the goals necessary to take them through to the round of 16.
Portugal’s lack of goalscorers will likely let them down, but qualification was always going to be a tall order; the Portuguese players’ reactions at the full-time whistle against the USA on Sunday reflected as much.
It’ll come down to the U.S.’s resilience and collective effort to hold off the Germans. There are more twists and turns to come from this most fascinating of groups.