In what has been dubbed by many as the “Group of Death,” the United States, Germany, Portugal, and Ghana will meet in matches beginning on June 16. Only two of the four teams will advance to face the relatively weak Group H winner and runner-up in the Round of 16.
Showing just how strong the section is, all four countries advanced out of group play in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Both Germany and Portugal would eventually lose to eventual-champion Spain, while Ghana knocked out the U.S. in a tense round-of-16 contest after extra time.
Ghana appeared to be on their way to an improbable spot in the semifinals, but Uruguay’s Luis Suarez used a hand ball to block a shot that was on its way into the goal in the dying moments of extra time. The subsequent penalty shot by Asamoah Gyan skimmed the crossbar, and Uruguay would later hold off Ghana in the penalty shootout, denying Africa its first nation to reach a semifinals.
Indeed, South Africa was a World Cup of highs and lows for all four nations. It has perhaps been most agonizing for Germany. The last time Germany won a World Cup was 1990, when they edged Argentina. Germany would trounce Argentina in 2010, 4-0, before falling to Spain off a Carles Puyol header in the 73rd minute. Few countries can boast the depth and talent of Germany, yet they have only reached one final (2002) in 24 years.
Brazil 2014 offers an opportunity to bounce back. The one country that would love to shed their reputation for under-achieving is Portugal, who happen to have 2013 Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. But even the Real Madrid forward has had trouble lifting Portugal to prominence. The best World Cup finish for Portugal was a third-place spot in 1966, and they followed that with a fourth-place spot in 2006. Portugal have been the bridesmaids in the European Championship, as well, reaching the Final in 2004, and the semis in 2012.
With the draw opening up after topping a group featuring England, there were expectations that the U.S. could join the true world’s elite and secure a semifinal berth in South Africa. Despite a strong effort, the U.S. came up short and now the pressure is on to at least reach the Round of 16 under former Germany star and coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The major storyline entering the World Cup for the U.S. is the absence of Landon Donovan, whose name Klinsmann will hope to confine to the past courtesy of the team’s performances in Brazil. Klinsmann will be especially eager to defeat his home country and has several German-born players to try and do it.
Here is a look at all four teams, and their prospects in group play:
After their success and heartbreak in 2010, Ghana enter as one of the more intriguing countries in the World Cup. They held their own with Germany in the group stage in 2010, and there is little to suggest that the Black Stars won’t put up a big fight in 2014. Ghana can call on the talents of Kwadwo Asamoah, who has become a reliable and versatile presence for Italian champions Juventus. Ghana remain exciting going forward, with the Ayew brothers -- Jordan and Andre -- along with Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Ghana will need to channel the same magic they showed in 2006 and 2010 to survive.
Player To Watch: Kevin-Prince Boateng
Prediction: Ghana will give Portugal and the U.S. a competitive contest, but it won’t be enough this time around.
Anything short of a World Cup title will be viewed as a disappointment for Germany after reaching three semifinals and one final in the last four major tournaments and having not lifted the World Cup in 24 years. Head coach Joachim Low has an incredibly strong pool of players with the young group that emerged so impressively four years ago supported by another fine young generation. But Germany will require all their strength in depth with several fitness concerns heading into the tournament. Marco Reus has been ruled out, while Manuel Neuer -- arguably the world’s best goalkeeper -- Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira have all been dealing with problems. With Mario Gomez not taken to the World Cup after a season beset by injuries at Fiorentina, Germany’s only recognized striker is 36-year-old Miroslav Klose, meaning Low could well opt to go with attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil in a false-nine role.
Player To Watch: Thomas Muller
Prediction: There is simply too much talent for Germany to not just advance, but finish first.
After needing a playoff win over Sweden to qualify, Portugal enter with some questions. Key will be getting the best out of star man Cristiano Ronaldo, whose diagnosis with tendinosis in his left leg has brought much concern. Portugal are far from a one-man team, with a strong defense featuring Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammates and fellow Champions League winners Pepe and Fabio Coentrao. In midfield there is the creativity of Joao Moutinho, who supplied two brilliant assists to help Ronaldo fire a memorable hat-trick in the second leg of the playoff victory over Sweden. But the attack is heavily reliant on Ronaldo, with Portugal again lacking a truly elite striker.
Player To Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo
Prediction: There might be just enough from Ronaldo to lift Portugal past tough competition.
Many have questioned the roster selections of Jurgen Klinsmann, but the former Germany striker may have a few aces up his sleeve, particularly against his native land where he once served as head coach. Right back Fabian Johnson has the challenge of containing some of the excellent left-side attackers from this group. But the Yanks also have some weapons, namely Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, who have looked sharp leading up to the tournament. Tim Howard is among the best goalkeepers in the tournament, and Michael Bradley has emerged as the team’s most talented and reliable midfielder. But does the U.S. have the defense to keep the likes of Ronaldo, Asamoah and Muller at bay?
Player To Watch: Michael Bradley
Prediction: There is little doubt that the U.S. have what it takes to surprise people, but the group opponents seem to have just a little too much for the Yanks.
Group G Schedule
June 16 Germany vs. Portugal (12 p.m. ET, Salvador; ESPN)
June 16 Ghana vs. United States (6 p.m. ET, Natal; ESPN)
June 21 Germany vs. Ghana (3 p.m. ET, Fortaleza; ESPN)
June 22 United States vs. Portugal (6 p.m. ET, Manaus; ESPN)
June 26 United States vs. Germany (12 p.m. ET; Refice ESPN)
June 26 Portugal vs. Ghana (12 p.m. ET, Brasilia; ESPN 2)
1. Germany 2-0-1; 7 points; (First Place)
2. Portugal 1-0-2; 5 points (Second Place)
3. United States 0-1-2; 2 points (Eliminated)
4. Ghana 0-2-1; 1 point (Eliminated)
Odds To Win Group (provided by Bovada.lv)