By: Travis Thayer
4. United States
12:00 ET Monday, June 16: Germany v. Portugal ESPN
6:00 ET Monday, June 16: Ghana v. United States ESPN
3:00 ET Saturday, June 21: Germany v. Ghana ESPN
6:00 ET Sunday, June 22: United States v. Portugal ESPN
12:00 ET Thursday, June 26: United States v. Germany ESPN
12:00 ET Thursday, June 26: Portugal v. Ghana ESPN 2
Germany suffered a terrible injury, when attacking midfielder Marco Reus partially tore the anterior ligament above his left ankle. Reus was going to be a key player for a German squad that has aspirations of winning the World Cup. Even without Reus, the number two ranked team in the world should have plenty of talent to win this group, and possibly the whole thing. The Germans have a load of talent in the attacking half of the field because of guys like Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and more. Germany also has one of the most reliable international goal scorers of all-time in Miroslav Klose, who 69 goals (most in German history) in 132 caps. Klose is also one goal away from tying the great Ronaldo as the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history with 15. Klose’s goal scoring ability and a solid defense gives the Germans as good a chance as anyone to win the 2014 World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo returned from injury last night, as Portugal destroyed Ireland 5-1 in their final World Cup tune-up. Ronaldo proved his fitness level by having an assist, and many goal scoring opportunities. Ronaldo has been battling a series of knee and thigh issues over the past few weeks, but it appears he will be ready for Portugal’s first cup game against Germany. Portugal was awful during qualifying, barely making the field. That has been a recipe for success in the past though. Portugal struggled to make the Euro in 2012, but they rallied to the semi-finals where they lost in penalties to eventual champs Spain. It seems that the bigger the game, the better Portugal plays.
The United States have found themselves in the “Group of Death”, and they will go through the gauntlet without the best player in U.S.A. soccer history, Landon Donovan. Donovan hasn’t played up to his usual standard over the past year or so, and Jurgen Klinsman has decided to take a younger roster to Brazil. Most experts give the States a zero percent chance of getting out of the group, and they MUST beat Ghana in the opener or else they won’t be advancing. Having said that, I believe the States stand a better chance than most, especially considering the health problems of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and Germany’s Marco Rues (Out for World Cup). The States will still have to bring their A-game regardless of the issues the other countries have, but they have a talented young roster that believes they can win. Michael Bradley has taken over as the primary playmaker in the midfield, and he has been brilliant with the ball as of late. Hopefully, striker Jozy Altidore came out of his major slump after scoring two goals in the USA’s last tune-up game against Nigeria. Altidore and fellow forward Clint Dempsey will be key to any success the Americans have.
Ghana, the archenemies of the United States. Of course, they would draw the Americans once again after knocking them out of the World Cup the past two years. Ghana has proven that they can play with anyone in the world. They made it to the knockout stage in 2006, and to the quarterfinals in 2010 respectively. I would be hard pressed to think they will take it one step further to the semi-finals this time around, but crazier things have happened. The Black Stars have some proven and well-known talent in the midfield, led by Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah. Ghana is a team that must not be counted out.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Miroslav Klose, Germany – There are plenty of guys to watch on the German side, but Klose was the pick here because history is on the line. He is just one goal from tying, and two goals away from passing Ronaldo (Brazil) as the all-time leading scorer in World Cup history. If that’s not worth watching for, I don’t know what is.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo, not to be confused with Ronaldo of Brazil is arguably the best player in the world right now. He can be so fun to watch, yet so frustrating to watch at the same time. He is so incredibly talented that he can wow you at the blink of an eye, but there are also times he disappears, a la Champions League Final. One thing is for sure, all eyes will be on Ronaldo when Portugal takes the pitch.
Michael Bradley, United States – No more Landon Donovan in the midfield, but don’t you worry American fans. Michael Bradley has cemented himself as the man who makes the clock tick. If you have seen any USA games leading up to the World Cup, you might have noticed that most scoring attempts and goals come from Bradley. He has become such a vital part of what the Americans do, and he will have to perform like a superstar to help the States advance past the group stage.
Asamoah Gyan, Ghana – Ghana’s leading scoring through qualifying, and also their captain. Gyan initially retired from international play in 2012. He’s had a string of bad luck in big time competitions, missing big penalty kicks in an African Cup of Nations loss, and another penalty miss two years prior in the World Cup. Gyan is back for redemption, and this will likely be his last international competition.
HOW THE GROUP WILL PLAY OUT
Germany has long been the favorite in this group. They have the best roster of the four teams, and are the number two ranked team in the world. Portugal, the number three ranked team in the world, faces Germany in the opening contest of the group. A winner in that game should be in great position to win the group. A loss by either team in the opener would certainly be a set-back, but not the end of the world. As for the USA and Ghana, both teams believe they must win their first game to have a chance to advance. History tells you that Ghana has the USA’s number, having knocked them out of the World Cup two years in a row. I believe the United States will win their first game against Ghana, and avenge the past two defeats. I’m not sure the States have the defensive capabilities to stop the likes of Germany and Portugal, especially now that Ronaldo looks to be healthy – but a draw against either team will give the States a chance to move on by goal differential. As much as I would love to say the Americans will advance, it’s just not the smart pick. Germany should win the group, followed by Portugal.