By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The United States soccer team (USA) are competing at their seventh consecutive FIFA World Cup and have been handed what can only be described as a daunting draw for the group stages. If they match the second round appearance they managed at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it will be a significant achievement.
The USA team have been drawn in Group G alongside Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Germany are considered one of the four favorites to win the tournament, along with hosts Brazil, Argentina and Spain, while Portugal boast a certain recently named World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, amongst their ranks.
USA versus Ghana
Monday, June 16th, Arena das Dunas in Natal
USA kick-off their World Cup campaign with what, on paper at least, should be their least challenging opposition. That said, the pair have met in each of the last two World Cup tournaments, with the Africans coming out on top on each occasion.
In 2006, they met in the group stage with Ghana emerging with a 2-1 victory, and four years ago they locked horns in the second round. The tie went to extra-time with the scores level at 1-1 after ninety minutes. But it was Ghana who grabbed a late goal, through Asamoah Gyan, to progress to the quarter-finals.
United States will need to watch Gyan again, whose rapid pace in attack is Ghana’s most potent weapon. Kwadao Asamoah won the Scuedtto with Juventus this past month and possesses a venomous long-range shot, while Kevin Prince-Boateng, of German outfit Schalke 04, will be charged with linking the build-up play between midfield and attack. The Ghanaians went to the quarter-finals in 2010 and were a penalty shoot-out away from becoming the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final.
USA versus Portugal
Sunday, June 22nd, Arena Amazônia in Manaus
Next the USA squad must travel into the heat and humidity of the Amazon rainforest for their next encounter with Portugal, and the Americans will be hoping for a repeat of their group stage meeting at the 2002 World Cup, when they prevailed with a 3-2 win and qualified for the knock-out stages.
Portugal only qualified for Brazil after a thrilling play-off encounter against Sweden. Four goals across the two legs from Cristiano Ronaldo saw them across the line and he will be the one to beware of as usual.
However, knowing you need to stop him and actually managing to do so are two entirely different entities. Much will depend on the US’ ability to nullify the world’s best player and the supply line to him.
USA versus Germany Thursday, June 26th, Arena Pernambuco in Recife
The USA team return to the Northeast for their final group game, and possibly the most difficult of the lot, against Joachim Low’s German machine. It was Germany who ended American resistance in 2002, when the US reached the quarter-finals, to date their best ever finish at a World Cup finals.
Germany earned high praise at the 2010 World Cup for their high-pressing, energetic style of play. The team then was in its infancy, and, having reached the semi-finals four years ago, as well as at the European Championships in 2012, have been tipped as possible champions in Brazil.
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann has unsurprisingly targeted his side’s opener against Ghana as vital to their chances of progressing in Brazil. Speaking to ESPN, the former German international said: “We basically start with a World Cup final against Ghana.”
“We need badly these three points against Ghana. If we get these three points against Ghana, I think then that the confidence will rise, the guys will be pumped up, and they will be ready for Portugal and give them a real fight.”