Despite his previous claim that it was unrealistic for the United States Men’s National Team to win the World Cup in 2014, coach Jürgen Klinsmann has expressed his full confidence in his squad and revealed that his flight home is booked for after next month’s final.
The U.S. begins its campaign against group-rivals and long-time foes Ghana in Natal on Monday evening knowing that a positive result will be imperative. Upcoming in arguably the World Cup’s toughest group will be matches against Portugal and Germany, two teams ranked inside the top four by FIFA. While not quite at those lofty levels, Ghana provide a stern test to get things underway. The African side came to within a converted penalty of making it to the semifinals in South Africa four years ago and they secured their qualification to Brazil with a 6-1 hammering of a strong Egypt side, then led by former U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
The U.S. should need no reminding of Ghana’s strengths. In the group stage in 2006 and then in the second round in 2010, it was Ghana that ended U.S. hopes in the World Cup. An extra-time goal by Asamoah Gyan in Rustenberg surely remains prominent in the minds of many of the American players who remain in the squad four years later. However, rather than a daunting prospect, Klinsmann claims to be relishing facing such a crucial first match against a big rival.
“There is nothing better than starting against a team that beat you in the last two World Cups," he said, according to Reuters. “There is nothing like starting the World Cup like it's a final.”
The U.S.’ task will be further complicated by the hot and humid conditions expected in Natal, as well as heavy rainfall in recent days. But having played in stifling conditions in Central America and a snowstorm in Colorado during qualifying, Klinsmann is confident his players can handle anything and make a real impact on the competition.
“No matter what the circumstances are, no matter how the game goes this group is ready to make it happen," he explained. “If it is snowing or thunder and lightning this is about playing football. I booked my flight home after the final.”
With no injury worries, Klinsmann is expected to opt for the same lineup that impressed in the team’s final warm up game against Nigeria just over a week ago. That would mean Kyle Beckerman anchoring a midfield diamond, with Jermaine Jones narrow to his left, Alejandro Bedoya on the right and key man Michael Bradley at the point. Clint Dempsey is set to support Jozy Altidore up front.
Ghana’s main fitness doubt in the buildup has been forward Majeed Waris, with coach James Kwesi Asmaoah leaving him out of the starting lineup already announced by the Ghanaian Football Association. There are two significant surprises, with experienced midfield pair Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng set to start from the bench.
One player certainly in the XI is U.S.-nemesis Gyan. And the striker, now plying his trade in the United Arab Emirates with Al Ain, is wary of the U.S. desperation for revenge.
“It's going to make the game more difficult” he said, reports Reuters. “They are coming for revenge. Mentally, they don't want to lose to us for the third time. It's going to make it very interesting and difficult for us. But we're ready to go out and give our all tomorrow.”
D: Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley
F: Altidore, Dempsey
D: Opare, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah
M: Essien, Muntari
A. Ayew, Atsu, J. Ayew
Where to watch: The World Cup Group G match will kick off from the Estadio das Dunas in natal at 6 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3, Watch ESPN and Univision.com.