The Group of Narratives. Go ahead, try and pick one. Only one.
Germany is trying to end an 18-year trophy drought, a long break for a world power.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world’s best players, but has never led his normally under-performing nation to glory.
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann is a legend in Germany and the country’s former coach. He also added five German-American dual citizens to the U.S. roster.
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This could be the summer that soccer explodes in the United States — but a tough group stands in the way. Will an early exit be a setback or a failure? Also, will injuries (to Ronaldo and a host of Germans) blow the door wide open for the U.S. to play spoiler?
Ghana, which has played a part in eliminating the United States the last two World Cups, has been close before and will be looking to finally be the African team to break through to the semifinals.
And, as if those weren’t enough, the Germany vs. Ghana match will feature two brothers on opposite teams with Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng and Germany’s Jerome Boateng.
Everywhere you look, you’ll find class. Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world and do-everything captain Philipp Lahm is the best fullback in the world. Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze are both exciting playmakers who will be responsible for leading the attack. Forward Miroslav Klose has a chance to become the all-time leading goalscorer in World Cup history, with 14 goals he’s one behind Brazil’s Ronaldo.
For a deep and talented roster, anything short of winning the Cup will be seen as a disappointment. The only thing that can hold the Germans back: Injuries. Both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira have been battling injuries and are the only experienced holding midfielders. Neuer and Lahm have been fighting to regain fitness too. Marco Reus will miss the tournament after injuring his ankle in a friendly.
How They Got Here: Finished first in Group C of European qualification
Best World Cup Finish: Champions, 1954, ’74, ’90
As is customary, Portugal qualified for Brazil the hard way by relying on the two-leg European playoffs. Also customary, Cristiano Ronaldo bailed his country out and kept them fighting another day. Ronaldo, however, is battling some knee issues and hasn’t featured in Portugal’s World Cup primers. If Ronaldo is injured and misses time, it will be devastating to Portugal.
While this isn’t a one-man team, no country relies on one man quite like Portugal does with Ronaldo. Coach Paulo Bento has experience in the back with Ronaldo’s club teammate at Real Madrid Pepe in defense and a potential emerging star with William Carvalho in the midfield. Forward Helder Postiga and midfielder Joao Moutinho will need to have big tournaments to help ease the burden — or potentially carry it entirely.
How They Got Here: Finished second in Group F of European qualification, defeated Sweden 4-2 in a two-leg playoff
Best World Cup Finish: Third place, 1966
The United States
For the pessimists, there are some troubling things to stew on for the U.S. Mainly, this group is light years more difficult than the group from four years ago, when the U.S. advanced by the skin of their teeth — also known as Landon Donovan’s right foot. You might have heard, Donovan isn’t going to Brazil. Forward Jozy Altidore has been in a season-long slump, the defensive partnership of Sporting KC’s Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron is a work in progress, and a very late formation change by coach Jurgen Klinsmann are all causes for concern.
But this is for the optimists: While the United States has always been seen as an athletically imposing side that was short on technical skill, that’s not really the case anymore. Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson have big-time European experience and also European-style skills. Though, athleticism won’t be a bad trait to fall back on in the heat and humidity of Brazil. Injuries to Germany and Portugal could open the door for the United States, but a win against Ghana will be required to escape this Group of Death.
How They Got Here: Finished first in CONCACAF “Hexagonal” qualifying
Best World Cup Finish: Semifinals, 1930
If American fans are counting on getting three points from the first game against Ghana, that won’t exactly be a cakewalk. Blessed with one of the more underrated midfields in the tournament — Kevin-Prince Boateng, Andre Ayew and Michael Essien — and a striker with plenty of World Cup experience in Asamoah Gyan, Ghana won’t back down from anyone in this group.
Ghana has big dreams of being the first African nation to reach the semifinals. And, it has the talent to do so, but they will go only as far as Kwadwo Asamoah can take them. If he is allowed room and space, he can create chances that Gyan will almost surely finish. Ghana could play spoiler not just for the U.S., but for Portugal and Germany as well.
How They Got Here: Finished first in African qualifying group, defeated Egypt 7-3 in a two-leg aggregate playoff
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16, 2010
Who Will Advance: Germany, Portugal
Dark Horse(s): United States, Ghana
Glad to Here: None
Three Players to Watch
Mario Gotze (Germany): Big things are expected at this tournament from the Bayern Munich wonder kid. With Reus out, Gotze could operate as the team’s most forward player. He’s not a natural goal scorer, but he is a crafty passer with superb control. He will be asked to hold the German offense together, create lanes to attack and take his chances when in front of goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal): It’s almost too easy to pick Ronaldo for this spot. But, it’s hard to ignore. This past season, he inched ahead of Lionel Messi in the “Who’s The Best Player in the World?” rankings. He’s the best 1-on-1 attacker in the world and might just be the best finisher too. In leading Real Madrid this season, he scored a staggering 51 goals in 48 games.
Michael Bradley (United States): Given a new role during the warm-ups for the World Cup as the tip of an attacking midfield diamond, Bradley will be the lead chance creator for the U.S. national team. He sees the field like an NFL quarterback, assessing options or reads at lighting speed. Without Donovan, this is Bradley’s team now.
Must Watch Match
Germany vs. Portugal
All apologies to the American fans, but this is the match that will likely decide the group. If either slips up or succumbs to injuries, it could open the door for either the U.S. or Ghana.