World Cup Group G: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ghana, Germany spell doom for United States
This is the 2014 World Cup’s Group of Death. Every tournament has one. Group G is undoubtedly this year’s.
There are other sections of the draw with powerful opponents, but no other boasts four legitimate contenders for the Round of 16.
Germany is one of the favorites to win the whole tournament and will be looking to stamp its authority as such in all three matches of the group, regardless of qualification status.
So if you’re hoping the Germans will clinch early and go easy on the U.S. in the finale, stop. Germany takes everything seriously. And if there’s a soccer ball involved, forget it.
Portugal is led by and hyper-dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portugese wouldn’t be in the tournament without him and he holds the FIFA Ballon D’Or for best player in the world. There are 92 players in the group and he is by far the most gifted.
Ghana’s made a game of ruining the United States at the World Cup. The Black Stars have eliminated the U.S. in the past two World Cups, which happened to be Ghana’s only appearances at the tournament. Defense is an area of concern, but with a front six seasoned with Champions League experience and robust athleticism — well, no one wants to play Ghana.
The U.S. is the least talented team in the group. If Jurgen Klinsmann can get the team into the knockouts it will be the greatest coaching accomplishment in American national team history since Bruce Arena led the 2002 team to the quarterfinals and a thorough outplaying of Germany, albeit in defeat.
A loss to Ghana in the opener would devastate what little chance the team has of progressing.
Germany - Die Mannschaft
Ghana – The Black Stars
Portugal - A Selecção
USA – The Stars and Stripes, The Yanks (neither are really used that much)
June 16: Germany Vs. Portugal, noon, Salvador
June 16: Ghana Vs. USA, 6 p.m., Natal
June 21: Germany Vs. Ghana, 3 p.m., Fortaleza
June 22: USA Vs. Portugal, 6 p.m., Manaus
June 26: USA Vs. Germany, noon, Recife
June 26: Portugal Vs. Ghana, noon, Brasilia
Key Match: Ghana Vs. USA
The U.S. faces one of the few teams in the world that outmatches it for athleticism as well as skill. Most of the time the U.S. can compensate for marginal to gaping deficiencies in on-ball talent with a disciplined team shape, timely counter attacks and a cautious, occasional and mildly effective possession game.
But Ghana is more physical than the U.S., it attacks faster across the field and with more all-around creativity. The U.S. has its sparks like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, but getting a result against Ghana will mean clinging to its gun.
That means staying compact in the midfield, picking specific, probably central areas of the field to press the Black Stars off the ball. When the U.S. attacks, it has to force Ghana to give it space either by establish early shooting threats atop the Ghanain 18-yard box or with overlapping runs to the wings.
The U.S.’ best, safest chance of victory is to break Ghana down via reserved but quick-pass possession. The problem with that approach is Michael Bradley can’t shoulder the creative duties in midfield on his own and there will need to be at least one defensive midfielder behind him. Dropping Clint Dempsey from the forward line also leaves Jozy Altidore to battle the Ghanaian back line on his own.
Ghana could then step up its defensive line and press the U.S. even more heavily in midfield. More Ghanaian pressure in less space is likely to equal loss of control and the game for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.
An early set piece goal, however, would allow the U.S. to play its historically comforting counterattacking game.
Regardless of how it’s achieved, a tie is a must for the U.S. A loss means having to attack Portugal in the open field in the second game — a dangerous proposition considering Cristiano Ronaldo plays for A Selecção.
Players to watch
Germany - Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich, Germany), Mesut Özil (Arsenal, England), Andre Schürrle (Chelsea, England), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal, England), Miroslav Klose (Lazio, Italy), Mario Götze (Bayern Munich, Germany)
You know what, just watch all of Germany. And ignore the dithering about the team only having one striker. This team is loaded with attackers that, if thrown atop a formation will perform very well and quite comfortably. The “one” striker, Klose, is two goals away from breaking the record for career World Cup tallies.
Ghana - Jordan Ayew (Marseille, France), Jon Obi Mikel (Chelsea, England), Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan, Italy), Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain, UAE), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan, Italy)
Portugal - Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Spain), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahçe, Turkey), Pepe (Real Madrid), Nani (Manchester United, England) João Moutinho (Monaco, France)
USA - Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, USA), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, USA) Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland, England), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands)
Predicted final group standings
Sleeper - Ghana
The best team in all of Africa, the same problems the Black Stars present to the U.S. are only slightly less problematic for the rest of the world.
Golden Boot Alert
Cristiano Ronaldo – He’ll have to carry his team to get to the knockouts and give himself enough games to win the award, but Ronaldo will certainly be firing in the group stage. Talk of his knee tendinosis, while legitimate, won’t stop him from scoring. Also, he’ll face the U.S. and Ghana when each will be especially desperate for points, opening up space for him on the counter. He’s the best on the counter.