The US national team drew a remarkably familiar and frustrating fate in the FIFA World Cup draw on Friday in Brazil, drawing traditional European heavyweights Germany and Portugal and a pesky Ghana team that’s knocked them out of the past two World Cups.
The USMNT were drawn into Group G – arguably the toughest group on the board when the draw was completed – and will open the tournament where they left off in 2010, against Ghana on June 16 in Natal, on the Northeastern coast of Brazil.
They’ll take on Portugal on June 22 in the Amazon city of Manaus before wrapping up the group stage back against Germany on June 26 back on the coast in Recife.
Germany were ranked No. 2 in the world in FIFA's most recent rankings in November, while Portugal came in at No. 5. The US are ranked No. 14, and Ghana sit at No. 24.
“Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw," US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN. "Having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the US, it couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger. But that’s what a World Cup is about. It’s a real challenge, and we’ll take it.”
The draw was a surprisingly familiar one for the Americans, who will take on Ghana for the third consecutive World Cup. The Black Stars defeated and eliminated the US during the group stage in 2006 in Germany and then posted a 2-1 win over the Americans in the Round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa.
"I think the memory will still be very fresh of the loss in the Round of 16 in 2010," US goalkeeper Tim Howard told USsoccer.com."I think that will help us more than it will them. We're a much stronger team than we were, and they'll know that going into the game. We'll look to set that result right."
The US also played Germany in the 2002 quarterfinals and the 1998 group stage, both losses. They played Portugal in the 2002 group stage and posted a 3-2 win to open the tournament en route to the only quarterfinals appearance in the nation’s history.
“We’re no underdogs," Klinsmann insisted to ESPN. "All the nations in the World Cup are big names, and they all deserve to be there. All the big nations are in there. And if you want to get into the top 10 one day or the top 12 in the world, then you’ve got to start beating them.”
Ghana qualified for their third consecutive World Cup via a two-leg series last month against former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley and Egypt, while Portugal struggled in their UEFA group stage and needed to survive a two-leg playoff against Sweden last month to reach their fourth straight World Cup.
Star striker Cristiano Ronaldo scored all four of the team's goals in a 4-2 aggregate-goal win.
"Portugal had a little bit of trouble coming out of qualifying in Europe but that doesn't say much because there are so many good teams in Europe," US midfielder Michael Bradley told USsoccer.com. "For me, like I said, Ronaldo is the best player in the world right now. He has shown, even when you look at the two games with Sweden, that he has the ability to, in a way unlike any other player in the world, put his team on his shoulders and will them and carry them. We have, for sure, a lot of respect for their team and we know it will be really difficult."
Germany, meanwhile, enter as bona fide contenders to win their first World Cup since they won as West Germany in 1990, with Klinsmann scoring three goals in the tournament. They reached the semifinals in both 2010 and 2006 and lost the final to Brazil in 2002.
The US will travel 8,866 miles during the group stage, more than any other team in the tournament. The Americans will be based in Sao Paulo and face trips of 1,436 miles to Natal, 1,832 miles to Manaus and 1,321 miles to Recife.
Throw in a trip to dreaded Manaus - a site in the Amazon jungle with sweltering temperatures unparalleled in the other Brazilian host sites - and it's a tough haul for Klinsmann's group.
Map courtesy of FIFA
“We discussed before the draw that there would be some problems from an organizational and traveling side, and we hit the worst of the worst," Klinsmann told ESPN. "Going to Manaus? Every coach that I’ve talked to over the past two days said, ‘Everything but Manaus.’ And no, we get Manaus. But we’ll prepare for it, and we’ll be ready for it.”
Said USSF president Sunil Gulati in a statement: "We've had a very, very good two years; the best two years in our history. It's a tough group, but they are all tough groups at some level. If you want to advance in the World Cup, you have to beat some good teams."
The USMNT’s CONCACAF counterparts drew varying degrees of difficulty, highlighted by Mexico’s draw into Group A with host nation Brazil. El Tri – who advanced via intercontinental playoff against New Zealand last month – will also play Cameroon and Croatia.
Costa Rica face a tough challenge in Group D with Uruguay, Italy and England, while Honduras face arguably the easiest road in Group E, with Switzerland, Ecuador and France.
Group B houses both the defending World Cup champions in Spain as well as the runners-up in the Netherlands, along with Chile and Australia.
Group C is led by Colombia, along with Greece, Cote d’Ivoire and Japan.
Argentina drew one of the easiest roads among the seeded teams in Group F, joined by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.
Belgium highlights Group H, along with Algeria, Russia and South Korea, the US team’s opponent for an international friendly on Feb. 5 in Los Angeles.