Managers: Ghana (Kwesi Appiah), Germany (Joachim Low), Portugal (Paulo Bento), United States (Jurgen Klinsmann)
June 16: Germany vs. Portugal
June 16: Ghana vs. U.S.
June 21: Germany vs. Ghana
June 22: U.S. vs. Portugal
June 26: U.S. vs. Germany
June 26: Portugal vs. Ghana
Germany is the favorite to win the group, but they’ll miss Marco Reus’ attack from midfield. Portugal carry much of the same squad that made it to the semifinals of Euro 2012, and Ronaldo is always dangerous. The opening match between U.S. and Ghana will decide if either has a chance at advancing.
The Success of Each Team Will Be Defined By:
Ghana: How well they soak up defensive pressure, and taking three points from the U.S. in the opening match
Germany: Finding a balance between their three attacking midfielders
Portugal: Joao Moutinho consistently supplying Ronaldo and Nani
United States: Their high press turning into attacking chances
The immense attacking talent of Portugal and Germany in Group G can be stifled if it doesn’t have time on the ball, or better, never receives the ball in the first place, right?
With a squad featuring Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson, the U.S. has the athleticism and stamina to press their three opponents. When he plays, Kyle Beckerman will provide stability to the madness. Johnson and left back Demarcus Beasley are expected to snuff out all 1-on-1’s with the Ayew brothers, Lukas Podolski, Nani, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Center backs Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron are no-nonsense center backs.
The individual quality is there. Dempsey can provide the unexpected moment as the main playmaker. Altidore finds goals for the national team. And Bradley’s late runs into the box unbalances defenses from Serie A to the MLS. But the star, and the best chance the USNT has in getting out of the group, is in Bradley or Jones winning the ball as high in opponent’s territory as possible, and playing Dempsey or Altidore into open spaces. Whether in the diamond formation, or a 4-2-3-1, the spine must provide the power and the drive.
The recent friendlies against Turkey and Nigeria have been encouraging. They are creating turnovers in the opposition half, with Fabian Johnson showing the energy to get into the opposition’s box. Jozy is scoring again. But Germany’s midfield three of Khedira, Schweinsteiger, and Kroos are technical and mobile enough to break a press – Khedira will be the one to target in the buildup. With Joao Moutinho in the middle, and Nani and Ronaldo on the wings, the U.S. must get their positioning and energy right against Portugal. Both Pepe and Coentrao can play with the ball at their feet, so maybe Klinsmann forces Bruno Alves or the young William Carvalho to prove he can handle the pressure, literally, on the biggest stage. Even on paper, it’s a big ask. And that’s without going into the USNT’s own defensive lapses.
Much of the discussion in the build up surrounded manager Jurgen Klinsmann leaving Landon Donovan off the roster. He instead named a fit, youthful roster. The move was symbolic - if the USNT advance, it won’t be on the back of its best player. It’ll be as a team. That, and they must beat Ghana in the opening match.
Rivalries are like unhappy families; they develop in their own way. The USNT’s biggest rival outside of the CONCACAF region is Ghana. It’s not a rivalry created from menace – it’s a begrudging respect that came with Ghana’s extra time win over the USNT in the round of 16 in 2010. Riding high after the last second win over Algeria to make it out of the group, the USNT felt like a team of destiny. Instead, striker Asamoah Gyan scored in the 93rd minute of extra time to break a 1-1 tie. Then it was Ghana’s turn to make history by becoming the first African side to make it to the semi finals of a World Cup – until Luis Suarez stepped in (handled in?).
I get the feeling that their supporters felt the same way USNT supporters felt when the group stage was unveiled – it’s a difficult group, but it’s possible…
Like the USNT, Ghana is powered by their midfield – although they are happier picking spots for counter attacks. Michael Essien is their Beckerman, a cool, veteran head to provide thought to their buildup. Sully Muntari is their Jones, with his take no prisoners approach to breaking up challenges up and down the field. And Kevin-Prince Boateng is their Michael Bradley, a playmaker built more on power and running than guile. This is a rivalry born from similarities.
Gyan again leads their attack, which brings up perhaps a larger point of how much the side has developed since 2010. Then again, they were one penalty away from reaching the semi finals of a World Cup. Maybe it’s on their opponents to figure them out.
The Ayew brothers join Gyan in attack. A backline lead by center backs Jonathan Mensah and John Boyd gave up 3 goals in 6 matches of qualifying. Their +15 goal differential in qualification was the largest by some measure. They had one of the best counter attacks four years ago. The side’s discipline and patience look to be strong points again.
The opening match between Ghana and the U.S. represents each side’s best chance at three points. A draw would mean an uphill battle for both teams. The USNT will get a chance to see how effective their press is against a Ghana side happy to soak up pressure and hit out on the wings. Rarely does an opening match have so much at stake.
Germany is a 5/1 favorite to win the World Cup, so here goes nothing: the squad is loaded with speedy, attacking midfielders and wingers in Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Andre Schurrle, Julian Draxler and Mario Gotze. But if we ask how much Ghana have developed since 2010, then we must ask the same of Germany – they’ll rely on 36 year old Miroslav Klose for goals, after all.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you were going to rely on a striker to score in Brazil, it might as well be the World Cup’s second all time leading goal scorer. But there is a question of cohesion and a lack of tactical diversity in Germany’s attack. The versatility of Marco Reus, out three months for an ankle injury, will be missed (Colombia kindly asks Germany to get in the back of the pity line). His replacements Schurrle and Podolski each excel on the counter attack – but they’ll surely run up against a team happy to park the bus, especially in the knock out stages.
Manager Joachim Low must then look to the midfield, where Toni Kroos’ ability to slot players in behind defenses becomes even more important. Germany’s fate in the knock out rounds may rest on his vision. Bastian Schweinsteiger provides the box to box everything. Sami Khedira brings the tackling and muscle in front of Jerome Boateng and Per Mertesacker. Out wide, Phillip Lahm will bring width in attack and defending – as well as his customary one goal from 35 yards per international tourney.
Germany may have the most powerful attack in the tournament. And if they run up against a parked bus, Ozil, or Kroos can conjure something up. That should be enough to win Group G.
And if we ask how much Germany and Ghana have developed since 2010, then we must ask the same of Portugal in 2014: their blueprint in the last ten years has been: Ronaldo, class center midfielders, rampaging fullbacks, and a pragmatic striker. It’s been good enough to reach semifinals and finals of major international competitions.
Ronaldo can singlehandedly win matches on his own and will vie with Messi for the “Best Player in the World” title. With Real Madrid teammate Fabio Coentrao running behind him, the left side will create most of the side’s chances. The biggest improvement from 2010 comes from the midfield duo of Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho. After all, we know what Nani, Helder Postiga, and Raul Meireles each bring. Pepe is one of the top center backs in the tournament. But if Portugal are to go another step in Brazil, it’ll be due to the development of Moutinho’s playmaking and Carvalho controlling in the middle. And Ronaldo scoring on his own. And maybe a throwback performance from Nani.
Their opening match against Germany should be end to end, and Ronaldo will see space attacking the opposite side of Lahm. The USNT will make it difficult for Pepe, Moutinho, and Carvalho to play, but Ronaldo and Nani will have an advantage over the fullbacks. Ghana will be difficult for Portugal to break down – this may be the one match they leave Ronaldo to do something spectacular. It seems simple enough when you write it down.
Each side in Group G has experienced some sort of international stagnation. Germany has made it to at least the semifinals of their last four international tournaments, and won none. Portugal reached the finals of the European Championship 10 years ago, the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, and the semifinals of Euro 2012. Ghana made the World Cup twice – in 2006 and 2010 – and went past the group stages in both. And since ’94, the USNT has gone to the round of 16 twice and the quarterfinals once. Two sides from Group G will leave Brazil disappointed.