This is the seventh of eight World Cup group previews as the days tick away to the tournament opener on June 12 in São Paulo between Brazil and Croatia. For comprehensive World Cup coverage, bookmark this page.
Germany (2nd in FIFA rankings) | First place in UEFA Group C | 60-20-19 all-time, three-time champions
Portugal (3rd) | Second place in UEFA Group F, 4-2 agg. vs. Sweden | 12-8-3 all-time
USA (14th) | First place in CONCACAF Hexagonal | 7-17-5 all-time
Ghana (38th) | Defeated Egypt 7-3 in CAF third round | 4-3-2 all-time
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
The deck is stacked against the US, but perhaps tropical conditions and American resolve can even the playing field, right? RIGHT?!
DAVID AND GOLIATH
The FIFA rankings suggest Ghana are coming into the Group G free for all with a slingshot and long odds. Of course, if you give credence to those numbers, I've got a bridge to sell you.
The hard truth is, despite being among the top 15 teams in the world according to FIFA, the United States are the plucky underdogs with two European powers and Africa's most talented team hell bent on sending them home after three games.
As for Goliath, Germany's 60 World Cup wins and three titles mean everyone else is taking aim for their forehead. Any defensive misgivings in qualifying were smoothed over by a rampant attack, and they'll expect nothing less than a table-topping performance.
Germany's opening match against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in Salvador will draw the eyeballs, but it's a World Cup grudge match that may very well determine the trajectory of the group.
Jurgen Klinsmann is on record saying US-Ghana on June 16 in Natal is "like a knockout game." It's a point the Black Stars are basically willing to concede, as both squads need every last point available with a pair of European power looming on the horizon.
|June 16 | 12 PM||Germany||Portugal||Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador|
|June 16 | 6 PM||Ghana||USA||Arena das Dunas, Natal|
|June 21 | 3 PM||Germany||Ghana||Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza|
|June 22 | 6 PM||Portugal||USA||Arena Amazônia, Manaus|
|June 26 | 12 PM||USA||Germany||Arena Pernambuco, Recife|
|June 26 | 12 PM||Portugal||Ghana||Estádio Mané Garrincha, Brasília|
Mesut Özil, M, Germany: Die Mannschaft are stacked, as Klinsmann well knows, but nobody is more influential than Özil, one of the elite chance creators in world soccer and an accomplished goalscorer in his own right. He led Jogi Löw's side with eight goals during the qualifying process (tied for third in UEFA with the likes of Ronaldo and some guy named Zlatan), but will have to overcome some lingering concerns about form and fitness in order for Germany to fulfill their vast potential.
Cristiano Ronaldo, F, Portugal: He's soccer's version of the bionic man, and undoubtedly the world's best player based on form (sorry Messi fans, it's Cristiano's year to claim that title). At his best, he's unstoppable, a marauding force in the open field, terror in the air and dead-ball magician. Fortunately for the rest of Group G, Ronaldo is nursing a variety of knocks (witch-doctor induced?), the state of which will be monitored intently.
Clint Dempsey, F, USA: The Americans are known as a hardworking, diligent side, but any moment of magic is likely to come from the boots of Deuce. As Bruce Arena famously cracked, Dempsey "tries [stuff]," and the US need their captain to pull off some of that "stuff" in order to have any hope of advancing from the Group of Death.
Asamoah Gyan, F, Ghana: "Baby Jet," as Gyan is known in Ghana, is the business end of an attack that's heavily reliant on his pace, power and finishing ability. He's been off the club radar for the past few years scoring goals for fun with Al Ain in the Arabian Gulf League, but nobody will forget the three goals in South African that nearly sent the Black Stars to the semifinals – nor the PK miss vs. Uruguay.
NEXT BIG THING...
Sporting CP just reportedly shelled out close to $2 million for Sporting Kansas City metronome Uri Rosell, sending some serious coin stateside for a defensive midfielder. The reason that investment made sense? Odds are William Carvalho won't be sticking around Estádio José Alvalade past this summer's tournament.
Manchester United, AS Monaco and Liverpool have been linked with the 22-year-old, who only played 17 minutes during the 2014 qualification process but recently started friendlies vs. Greece and Cameroon. With Portugal's established midfielders eager to push forward, Carvalho is a natural fit as the anchor of the group and his set-piece ability could come in handy, too.
Injuries. While the US and Ghana come into the tournament relatively unscathed, Germany and Portugal have some serious fitness concerns that could drastically change their outlooks in Brazil.
You can't overstate Ronaldo's importance – he scored all four goals in Portugal's World Cup playoff victory over Sweden – and it seems he may have already given his best to Real Madrid in 2014 at the expense of the national team. At 29 years old, this is the Portuguese genius' final Mundial in his prime, and casual fans are praying he'll be 100 percent come June 16.
Germany, meanwhile, are dealing with a raft of fitness concerns. Left back Marcel Schmelzer got the ax because of lingering knee issues, and although goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, captain Philipp Lahm and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger are in various states of disrepair, Loew brought them along for the ride. Better hope the physios are world class just like the players.
Almost 24 years after the reunification of Germany, there are more Polish-born players in the national team than hail from the territory that made up the old East Germany. That is to say, two (Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose) to one (Toni Kroos). Does that mean West Germany are gunning for their fourth title?
SIX DEGREES OF MLS
Forget six, how about 10 degrees of MLS.
That's how many US- and Canada-based players Klinsmann will bring to Brazil, a group that makes up the backbone of the team (Dempsey, Michael Bradley), up-and-comers at their first World Cup (Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez), the veterans living out a dream (Brad Davis, Nick Rimando, Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman) and the next generation (DeAndre Yedlin).
In many ways, the USMNT's fortunes (or lackthereof) will be a reflection on professional soccer in the US and Canada. As the tagline goes, for club and country.
Go ahead and break out the sharpies. Germany are a tournament team, and there's no way they're going home after three games no matter how daunting the group looks on paper or how many injuries they accumulate.
Second place, well, that's squarely up for grabs. Is Ronaldo playing possum? Unlikely, and Portugal need him at his game-changing best. Can the US navigate the group with a new system and an uncertain XI? Stranger things have happened. That leaves Ghana, who have World Cup chops from the past two tournaments and a midfield and forward line to rival anyone in the group.