As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Every World Cup seems to have a so-called “Group of Death”, which is the name given to the toughest group in the tournament.The 2014 FIFA World Cup seems to have two such groups. One is Group D; the other is this group. All four nations in this group (Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States) are capable of going deep in this tournament. But the luck of the draw is such that only two of them can advance.
Germany should be a popular pick to advance. Currently ranked second in the FIFA world rankings, the three-time winners are one of the very few European country capable of winning the tournament on the South American continent (along with Spain and perhaps the Netherlands). The Germans have produced top-class talent over the past dozen years but they have yet to win a major tournament. After having made it to at least the World Cup semifinals in 2002, 2006 and 2010 (as well as Euro 2008 and 2012) the pressure may be on Joachim Low’s man to finish the deal in 2014.
They will have their hands full in this one. Portugal are an incredible squad, that unfortunately relies heavily on one player. But when that one player is World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, anything is possible (as he showed during Portugal’s play-off victory over Sweden to clinch World Cup qualification). Ghana are perhaps the best football from Africa right now. This will be the third straight World Cup for the Black Stars, and in the previous two they advanced beyond the group stages. The United States have shown progress under German manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Now they get to show the rest of the world just how much they have improved as a football nation. This won’t be the easiest of groups to prove yourself however. Let’s now look quickly at each of the six matches that will determine the group standings and predict how the group will shake out. (All times Eastern.)
Germany v. Portugal/Salvador (June 16/12:00pm)
It is unfair to call Portugal a “one-man” team. Sure, their success is dependent mostly on the play of Ronaldo, but they also have a very solid back line and pace on the wings. With that in mind, look for the Portuguese to play as many men behind the ball as possible with the hopes of hitting Germany on the counterattack. The Germans are one of the best when it comes to ball possession, but if there is a weakness in Die Adler it is on defense. The central defenders in particular can be susceptible to teams with pace up front, which makes this opening match even more intriguing. Another issue for Germany is the lack of a dangerous number 9 up front. Miroslav Klose (one goal shy of the all-time World Cup record) is now 36 and will be playing in his fourth World Cup. Can they continue to lean on him for goals? The history of sports has shown us this: a great team usually beats a team that relies heavily on one superstar. Portugal has one playmaker in Ronaldo. Germany has several.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Germany
Ghana v. United States/Natal (June 16/6:00pm)
This is the third straight World Cup where these two nations have met, and the United States will be hoping that the third time is the charm. In 2006, the Yanks fell 2-1 to Ghana in the final match of group play as the Black Stars advanced to the second round. Four years later the two teams faced off in the second round, with Ghana again the winners thanks to an extra-time goal by Asamoah Gyan. If anything, one should expect another tight match between these two. Technically, the United States are at the point where they can match (if not exceed) Ghana, but how do they deal with their pace and power? The Yanks will need to get off to a quick start in this one — something they failed to do in their previous two meetings.
PREDICTION: 1-1 Draw
Germany v. Ghana/Fortaleza (June 21/3:00pm)
This should be a wide open game and we could see quite a few goals in this one. Unlike Portugal, don’t expect Ghana to just sit back and allow Germany to come at them. The Black Stars will be looking to push forward as much as possible — and the pace, strength, and athleticism of their midfield will present the Germans with a few problems. Germany will have to dominate possession as much as possible and dictate the flow of the match. Ghana loves to play fast, so look for Germany to slow the pace down to neutralize Ghana’s speed. If Ghana can keep the pace of the match up, they should be able to wear down their opponent — particular in Fortaleza, where the temperature can get as high as 90 degrees. In the end, it all comes down to whichever side’s midfield can better control the tempo of the match.
PREDICTION: 2-2 Draw
United States v. Portugal/Manaus (June 22/6:00pm)
In 2002, the United States opened their World Cup with a 3-2 upset over group favorites Portugal in Korea. Portugal will be looking to avenge that defeat, and so they will be more offensive-minded in this one. Can the Yanks handle the speed (as well as the craftiness) of the Portuguese on the flanks? Can they keep Ronaldo in check? Expect Portugal to get off to a quick start in this one, but will they be able to hold off the determined Americans. The answer here is no, as the United States score a late equalizer to keep their hopes of making the second round alive.
PREDICTION: 1-1 Draw
United States v. Germany/Recife (June 26/12:00pm)
The obvious storyline here is former Germany manager and current U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann facing his then-assistant and successor Joachim Loew. Expect this match to feel much like the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal match between these two nations. Klinsmann’s side will bring the fight to the group favorites, and do not be surprised if they outplay the Germans for much of the match. But will they be able to finish this time? Remember, the German defenders are susceptible to pace up front — something which the U.S. lacks. Top striker Jozy Altidore, for example, is a physical striker who can be dangerous on set-pieces but does not necessarily possess blazing speed. The Germans may not have as many goal-scoring chances as the Americans during this match, but they will make theirs count.
PREDICTION: 2-0 Germany
Portugal v. Ghana/Brasilia (June 26/12:00pm)
This is what the Portuguese do. Everything has to be done the hard way. In 2010, they had to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in a playoff just to qualify in the playoffs. At that World Cup, they had to secure a draw against Brazil in their final group match to qualify for the second round. In Euro 2012, they were placed in a tough group (along with Germany, Netherlands and Denmark) and had to win their final group match against the Dutch to qualify for the second round. This year, they had to beat Sweden in a playoff in order to qualify for the World Cup. Now, they are going to need a victory against Ghana to advance to the second round. Again, this is what they do. Nothing is done easy. But it says something that not only are they used to these high-pressure matches, they’ve usually had success as well — a trend that will continue against Ghana.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Portugal
Group G Prediction