2014 World Cup Brazil: Group G Preview

June 9, 2014

I’m not going to agree that Group G is the Group of Death, but I will admit that it is going to be very difficult for the non-European squads to make it to the knockout round. Germany is a legitimate Cup contender and if Ronaldo is healthy and gets any help at all, so is Portugal. Throw in Ghana, which dispatched the United States in the Round of 16 in 2010, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a battle in front of you.

But hey, isn’t that all part of the fun? It’s not often that the United States can go into a world competition and strive to be world beaters. I say bring it on.

Let’s preview Group G.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal forward

There isn’t a player in the tournament that is more important to his team’s success than CR7. It’s not as if Portugal doesn’t have any other talented players; it’s quite the opposite, really. But often times the 10 other men on the Selecção look like they are content with standing around and watching the reigning Ballon d’Or recipient work his magic. In a playoff against Sweden to qualify for the World Cup, Ronaldo scored all four of his squad’s goals. He was responsible for a third of Portugal’s 24 goals during qualification, and over the past 12 months he has been the most difficult man in the world to stop on the pitch.

But of course, something must go wrong. Ronaldo has been dealing with tendinosis in his left knee and may not be 100 percent for the entirely of the World Cup. This isn’t an injury that typically heals quickly and it might result in limited effectiveness for the Portugal star. If he’s healthy, then the world gets a treat and opponents get a nightmare. If he’s not, well…

Thomas Müller, Germany midfielder

Germany is front to back one of the best squads in the entire tournament and there aren’t a lot of places for individual stars to steal the spotlight. But assuming that Die Mannschaft is able to easily navigate its way through group play, chances are that a couple of names will catch the attention of fans. The midfielders for Germany are exceptional and none may have a brighter future than 24-year old Thomas Müller. One of a few attacking midfielders on the German squad, Müller has both the experience (he played in the 2010 World Cup) and athletic ability to be a focal point of containment for every team Germany plays.

The Germans no longer play a boring, calculated style of football that will put people to sleep. This team is willing to attack relentlessly and can put pressure on opposing defenses all game long. Although there are several players that can be credited for Germany being able to adopt this strategy, Müller’s eye for the goal could result in him receiving much of the praise.

They’ll Move On If…

Germany – Things go as planned on paper. Die Mannschaft is the clear favorite in this group and there isn’t a team it will play through the first three matches that has better personnel at midfield. A tie in Group G would be a disappointment and a loss would be downright shocking. Don’t be surprised if Germany rolls through to the knockout stage with a full nine points.

Ghana – The Black Stars come out firing on all cylinders and quickly secure as many points as possible. The way the schedule is set up, Ghana’s best chance at three points comes in its first game against the United States. No one in this group should be counting on a victory over Germany, so unless Ghana wants to sweat it out come match three versus Portugal, midfielders Kwadwo Asamoah, Michael Essien and Kevin Prince-Boateng must be at top form starting with game one.

Portugal – CR7 is healthy and terrorizing opposing back ends. But for the Selecção to feel safe in the case of a Ronaldo letdown, someone else needs to step up. Portugal is good enough to move on even in the absence of several Ronaldo goals, but the squad needs to believe that before it becomes a reality. As good as he is, Ronaldo may actually be a vice come the knockout stage because he doesn’t get the best out of the personnel behind him.

United States – The Yanks embrace the underdog role and manager Jürgen Klinsmann doesn’t try to over-think the lineups and talent at his expense. It will not be easy for the United States to make the knockout stage, and like Ghana it probably needs three points as early as possible. But this team will fight and not give up for 90 minutes and maybe, just maybe, the soccer gods will look favorably upon the United States.

Most Crucial Matches

Ghana vs. United States (June 16, 6 PM ET)

Based on the difficulty of securing points elsewhere in group play, it would appear as if this is a must-win for both squads in order to have a shot at moving on to the knockout stage. Midfield play and ball possession are the strong points of the Ghana side, and the Black Stars will be willing to wait patiently for the right time to counterattack. The United States is a bit better at creating offensive chances, but the question marks on the back end make it imperative that Klinsmann’s squad has enough personnel in the midfield ready to defend. Goals may be difficult to come by in this one, but it’s important that neither team settles for a draw.

Ghana vs. Portugal (June 26, 12 PM ET)

In a scenario that I can definitely envision happening, Americans will be rooting for the Black Stars in this game so that the United States can advance to the knockout stage on goal differential. But in order for that to happen, Ghana needs to do an exceptional job of keeping control of the football and off the feet of CR7, who at this point will have made it clear whether or not he is fully healthy. Ghana is the only team in this group that has not been accused of having defensive deficiencies and as a result may be the perfect team to stifle the Portugal attack. And so that I don’t sound like I’m rooting for one team in particular, keep in mind that this is also the perfect opportunity for the Black Stars to slip into the knockout stage.

How They’ll Finish (picks in bold move on to Knockout Stage)

1. Germany – 9 points

2. Portugal – 4 points

3. United States – 2 points

4. Ghana – 1 point

– K. Becks

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