USMNT / World Cup

So, about that World Cup draw…

Well, that went about as badly as possible.

Here’s the U.S.’s World Cup group, Group G:

Germany, Portugal, Ghana, the United States

To recap, that’s:

  • Germany, possibly the best team in the world, picked by many to win the whole thing;
  • Portugal, home to arguably the greatest player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo; and
  • Ghana, the team that ended the United States’ World Cup journey in the past two tournaments.

That’s a tough draw. There’s no sugarcoating it. The U.S. will face long odds of escaping the group stage, as a result.

But the team is certainly not without hope. As the past year has shown, the U.S. is capable of getting results against big European teams, and facing Ghana will be a good opportunity to bury ghosts of World Cups past.

Breaking big tasks down into smaller parts makes them easier to deal with, so let’s examine each opponent the U.S. will face.

Ghana

First up, the U.S. faces Ghana (June 16, Natal). Ghana and the U.S. have faced each other just four times, with Ghana winning each time. The first two meetings were back in 1983, but more recently, Ghana has knocked the U.S. out of the 2010 and 2006 World Cups. Both games were close 2–1 affairs, and the U.S. will need to reverse that trend and get a win to have any hope of moving out of the group.

The Black Stars are not as strong as they were in 2010, requiring victory over Egypt in a two-legged play-off in order to qualify for the World Cup, but they are still formidable (the play-off was a result of the African qualifying format, and does not reflect on Ghana’s quality, but Ghana are still a weaker team than four years ago). Many of their attacking players ply their club trade in top European leagues, and U.S. fans will remember team captain Asamoah Gyan for his game-winner in South Africa.

Bottom line: Ghana is a tough out, but the U.S. needs three points or there’s no hope. Okay, maybe not no hope. But fail to get three points, and that means they must come elsewhere…

Portugal

The U.S. next plays Portugal (June 22, Manaus). The U.S. and Portugal have also faced off four times, with Portugal winning two, the U.S. one, and the fourth game a draw. However, the teams have only seen each other once since 1990, in the 2002 World Cup, where the U.S. had one of its most famous victories, defeating Portugal 3–2. In a hugely shocking game, the U.S. went up by three goals (which could have been more), only for Portugal to claw back into it. But the Portuguese fell short, and the U.S. had the upset of the tournament.

Of course, that Portugal team didn’t have a certain well-coifed soccer cyborg playing for it. You know, Cristiano Ronaldo, the guy who is the odds-on favorite to win the Ballon d’Or for 2013, as the world’s best player? Perhaps some of you saw the game between Portugal and Sweden recently. You know, the one where Ronaldo scored three goals, and single-handedly got his team into the World Cup? Yeah, he’s on the team now. And Portugal isn’t a one-man show, either, with names like Pepe, Coentrao, Moutinho, and Meireles on the teamsheet.

Bottom line: The first order of business is to avoid defeat at all costs. And Portugal have been inconsistent in the past; if Ronaldo isn’t on song, the team can struggle to score. If the U.S. can minimize his impact on the game, another famous win isn’t beyond the realm of the possible. Which would really set things up nicely for…

Germany

The U.S.’s final group opponent is Germany (June 26, Recife). Only Brazil would have made for a tougher group stage foe, and that’s debatable. Germany boasts some of the world’s top soccer talent, with arguably the best goalkeeper (Manuel Neuer) and some of the top attacking players around (Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Marco Reus). Miroslav Klose, one of the top World Cup scorers in history may not even make the team this time around, due to the wealth of talent at coach Joachim Low’s disposal.

Germany’s record in 2013? 11-1-2, with 35 goals scored and just 15 allowed.

The only bright spot for the U.S.? That one loss was inflicted by the United States last spring, in a thrilling 4–3 friendly win by the Stars and Stripes, which kicked off the U.S.’s dominant stretch of victories that saw them win the Gold Cup without a loss. Of course, the team the U.S. faced was somewhat understrength, and playing at the World Cup is a different kettle of fish.

Bottom line: In the end, this game may be meaningless. Depending on other results, the U.S. may already have been knocked out. If there’s still a chance, though, this is going to be one hell of a game. Lot’s of heavy American tackles, allied with all-out attack. Honestly, it’s likely to look like that either way, as the U.S. will look to pull the upset even if mathematically eliminated.

Travel

Here’s the other thing to consider. The U.S. will have some hellish travel to deal with, in addition to playing the games themselves. Brazil is a big place, it turns out. The U.S. will have to learn how to recover with their tray tables in the upright and locked positions.

Conclusions

The soccer gods are angry, it seems. This is the most difficult group in the tournament, whatever label you want to give it. The important thing to remember, though, is that one of the reasons for that is because the U.S. is in it. Germany’s only loss in 2013 came when they underestimated the U.S. That won’t happen again. Portugal will be out for revenge for 2002, but will know how dangerous the U.S. can be. And Ghana? Well, it’s tough to beat any team three times in a row, and they’ve already done it twice, so the odds are in the U.S.’s favor there.

The order of fixtures has been kind, at least, with Ghana first, then Portugal, then Germany. If the U.S. can win against Ghana, it will give them confidence moving on to face Portugal. If the result against Portugal is good, then all bets are off.

Make no mistake. If the U.S. gets out of this group, it will be a major, major accomplishment. But they can absolutely do it. And, no matter what, we’re all going to get to see some pretty great games.

I, for one, can’t wait.

14 Comments

  1. I’m going to disagree that this was the worst draw for the US. Both Groups B and D would have been worse. While this group may be stronger from top to bottom, that is largely because the US is stronger than Argentina or Costa Rica (the team they would have replaced had they been drawn in one of those groups). Portugal while strong didn’t win its qualifying group. Germany blew a 4-0 lead to Sweden at home in qualifying. So neither of them is the 1970 Brazil team.

    Klinsmann’s first big test is to prove that Ghana is Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley’s nightmare rather than a US nightmare. He’ll have the advantage that he can focus on them coming into the tournament as the first game rather than the 3rd or 4th game like the last two times.

    One small point about Ghana having to beat Egypt in a playoff. CAF qualification was setup so the 10 group winners all had to play in playoff series. So that was not an indication of Ghana’s strength.

    One thing the US can’t do is to come out of the first 2 games with draws like in 2010. A lot may depend on how well Tim Howard plays. If he keeps up form like he did at Old Trafford Wednesday night, the US has a good chance to get through.

    One good thing about the draw is that if the US does get through, they won’t have the toughest of draws in the round of 16. That honor could easily go to Mexico who has a much easier group but a much tougher crossover.

  2. Tough draw. Tougher travel. I think I hear the sound of Cherundolo and Bocanegra retiring

  3. Hey, we could get lucky. Maybe Rinaldo will be too sad to play at all that day…

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    This is all I have to say… (FYI – Depending on where you work, it may have a little NSFW language)
    .
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dsx2vdn7gpY
    .
    I’m just being dramatic, I really think the US will finish 2nd in this group… after that, who knows. It all starts with that first game against Ghana. Get the 3 points, and that will such a boost in confidence.
    .
    On another note, it literally could not have worked out worse for the USA. Worst group, worst travel schedule, worst EVERYTHING!! Ah well… GO USA!!

  5. If we’re going to get knocked out, this US team will go out swinging. Bring it on, I say.

  6. This is what the WC is about: EXCITEMENT! Almost feel like booking flights and going to these exciting games. Will be Epic!

  7. We got a fun draw. This will cement our rivalry with Ghana and seeing how much Mexico sucks these days it will be welcome.
    I think, with a little luck and good play, beat Portugal.
    And well lets face it the only way Germany doesn’t get out of the Group stages is if the plane carrying the first team crashes into the field where the B squad is training.

    • Yeah, I think emerging is possible. It would have to come at the expense of squeaking past Portugal or something tragic happening to Germany, though.
      .
      Game one: beat Ghana; Game two: tie Portugal; Game three: lose a close match to Germany. That’s four points in the group stage.
      .
      Assume Portugal beats Ghana and they tie us. We need them to lose to Germany and then go into tie breakers with us. Of course, if we can get Ghana to pull the upset, that would solve a lot here.
      .
      Germany should clearly win the group. In can easily see them going 3-0 in the group stage, really. They’re significantly better than all three, and the only way anybody scores points on them is if Germany takes things too lightly or has catastrophic injuries.
      .
      So if we “concede” the Germans the group, we’re looking at a three way battle for 2nd. That’s not a terrible situation for the US to be in, given the other teams. Klinsman wants to play the best and test his team against the best, here’s his chance. Beat Ghana and Portugal.

  8. Plus, let’s be honest. Portugal is not going to want to play in the heat in that rainforest either. But US born players will hopefully be a little more up for it and give them a run for their money. That’s what I’m wishing for at least.

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  10. this may be the most poetic and narrative-rich draw in world cup history. vanquishing demons, a game of germany vs. germany-west, and a chance to match against the best player in the world…

    …if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

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