In a scintillating opening display, Germany already provided a heavy suggestion that the so-called “Group of Death” will, for them, have ample life. A 4-0 destruction of Portugal that threatened to cross the line into humiliation for the team ranked as the second best in one of the World Cup’s toughest groups on paper made light of the expected challenge. On Saturday Joachim Low’s team will take on Ghana looking to put a place in the Round of 16 already within touching distance.
Their debut performance made a powerful statement. After a buildup to the World Cup blighted by injuries and fitness doubts, together with scrutiny over Low’s decision to take just one orthodox striker, the fading expectations prior to arrival in Brazil have been revived. It was perhaps the most complete attacking performance of the World Cup so far; one that befuddled Portugal and led to Pepe losing his cool in the Salvador heat and only helping to make Germany’s win all the more routine.
Thomas Muller grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick as the Bayern Munich man picked up exactly where he left off in South Africa four years ago. It was his all-round performance, though, that deserves the attention. Rarely having played as an out-an-out striker, yet with the physical capabilities to do so, Muller brought movement and unpredictability to the role which never allowed Portugal’s defenders to settle. Muller was complimented delightfully by Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, and the fluidity of the trio was a joy to behold. Behind them, a midfield trio of Sami Khedira, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos had a little of everything.
It went as well for Low as he could possibly have dreamed. The same can most definitely not be said for Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah. Ghana’s opening match against the United States was not only billed as a chance for American revenge after the African side’s victories over them in the last two World Cup, but also as close to a make-or-break game for both teams given the quality of opposition to come.
Clint Dempsey’s goal after 30 seconds immediately took Ghana out of their counter-attacking comfort zone. Against a U.S. performance that was strong-willed but far from convincing, it took Ghana until eight minutes from the end to get level through Andre Ayew. Then with victory in their sights, it was instead defeat that they realized by sloppily allowing John Brooks to head in a late corner.
Appiah had caused some surprise with his team selection that saw Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng start on the bench. It was arguably a decision that back-fired. Both midfielders came on in the second-half and made positive contributions, and if Essien recovers from a toe injury, they could well start in Fortaleza on Saturday. One of those likely to drop out is Jordan Ayew. The Marseille man was selected following a hat-trick in Ghana’s final warm-up game against South Korea but never looked capable of replicating that form against the U.S.
If Ghana are to keep their hopes of World Cup progress alive against Germany, then it is vital that they capitalize on their strengths out wide. The pace of Christian Atsu, who gave a more impressive performance on the right against the U.S., and Andre Ayew is certainly capable of giving Germany problems.
Before they took charge, Germany showed a vulnerability at the back that, had Cristiano Ronaldo been fully fit and Hugo Almeida simply been a more accomplished striker, Portugal could well have capitalized upon. The issues for Germany particularly come down the right flank. There Mesut Ozil is far from diligent at getting back defensively, while at right-back Jerome Boateng is playing out of position and is not the most secure of defenders regardless, while Per Mertesacker, the right-sided of the two center-backs, can be caught out for pace. That Germany defense could get a reshuffle against Ghana, with Mats Hummels still struggling with a thigh problem and the inexperienced Shkodran Mustafi a candidate to come in.
Prediction: Expect a match where Germany dominate possession and Ghana adopt their more familiar counter-attacking style. At their best, Ghana can certainly cause Germany problems on the break and there could be a goal in store for them. But Ghana showed vulnerability at the back against the U.S. and their defense is unlikely to stand up to repeated examination by a Germany side excellent going forward.
Germany 3-1 Ghana
Betting odds (Bovada.lv)
Germany win: 1/4
- Germany will progress to the last-16 with a victory and either a draw or defeat for Portugal against the U.S. on Sunday.
-Ghana will be eliminated with a defeat and either a win or draw for the U.S. against Portugal.
- The only previous competitive meeting between Ghana and Germany came at the 2010 World Cup when Germany won 1-0.
When and where: The 2014 World Cup Group G match will kick off at 3 p.m. from the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza at 3 p.m. ET.