Ghana's string of two straight knockout-round appearances – in its only two World Cup trips – is on the verge of being snapped. Germany have been in every World Cup tournament but one (1950), have never been knocked out in the group stage since then and die Mannschaft can guarantee a spot in the Round of 16 with three points in Saturday's Group G match. Ghana will not go away easily, however, in the classic matchup of plucky underdogs against rich kids, but American observers – who normally love a good upset – likely will find themselves rooting for the haves in this one.
WHY IS THAT, YOU ASK? First of all, congratulations on waking up from your eight-year coma. Nice to have you back. Quick recap: Ghana eliminated the US in 2006 and 2010, and (more importantly) a German win over the Black Stars and three points for the US on Sunday would guarantee both victors a spot in the Round of 16 (not to mention providing the US with a year's supply of warm, delicious schadenfreude). So instead of scrapping and clawing for points in the US-Germany group-stage finale on Thursday, both teams could just knock umlauts around the park for 90 minutes and move on.
GROUP OPENERS: Germany got a hat trick from 2010 Golden Boot winner Thomas Müller and cruised to a 4-0 beatdown of shorthanded Portugal, who were without a full-strength Cristiano Ronaldo (knee) and lost defender Pepe (recurring mind loss, severity level red card) just before the half. Ghana conceded a goal to the United States in less than 30 seconds, fought back to level through Andre Ayew eight minutes from time – and then saw halftime sub John Brooks head in Graham Zusi's corner kick four minutes later to become the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln.
BEATEN UP IN THE BACK: Germany could be without defender Mats Hummels (who scored their other goal against Portugal) after he left the opener with a deep thigh bruise. Right back Jerome Boateng tore ligaments in his right thumb in that match but is expected to play on Saturday and will wear a splint on his hand.
CLASH OF BROTHERS II: THIS TIME, IT'S FORTALEZA: Boateng's availability for Germany would provide World Cup audiences with the subplot of a Boateng v. Boateng showdown for the second straight tournament. Half-brother Kevin-Prince Boateng is one of the Black Stars' – well, stars – even though he was used as a substitute against the US. The two first met on the World Cup stage in South Africa in 2010, with Jerome and Germany prevailing 1-0 in their group finale. Ghana went on to the quarterfinals and Germany to a second straight third-place finish.
THE STAR YOU KNOW:
- Müller, for pretty obvious reasons. He has eight goals in seven World Cup matches and is on pace for a second straight Golden Boot after his opening performance. He's not going to beat you 1-v-1 – but if there's a gap in the defense, he'll find it and exploit it. If Germany can defuse and counter Ghana's counterattacks, there will be gaps. Just don't hang out near Germany's training when he's there, as one poor bystander recently learned.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU:
- Sulley Muntari, midfielder, Ghana – He has a rocky history with the national side: insulting coaches, refusing call-ups, even once threatening to become the youngest player ever to retire from international play. He can still be a hothead, as shown by his confrontation with the United States' Jermaine Jones (expertly defused, by the way, by Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson). But he plays hard, always seems to be in the mix and is dangerous from distance.