Group G: Oh say can they score?
The only group that features four teams who advanced past the group stage in 2010, Group G is top to bottom the most competitive group in the tournament.
World power Germany are the odds-on favorites to take it, but will not get a break against three highly capable opponents. Portugal rely heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s surely talented enough to win games by himself.
Ghana have advanced past the group stages in the past two World Cups, and have talented midfield that can stifle opponents.
Then there’s the United States, a team on the rise who are bringing their best side in recent memory to Brazil. The U.S. will have to play at their absolute best just to get into the knockout stages, but doing so would mark significant moment in their international progression.
How they’ll finish
- United States
SPI Rank: 4; FIFA World Ranking: 2
2010 World Cup: Eliminated in Semi-final
Odds to advance to knock-out stages: 88.3 percent*
Perennial favorites every four years, the three time World Cup winners have failed to advance past the group stage only three times since their first tournament in 1972.
A swath of injuries puts this German side at less than full strength heading into the tournament, but it would still be a shock if the German’s fail top this difficult group.
Die Mannschaft will be without a world class talent after losing 24-year-old attacking sensation Marco Reus to injury, a unfortunate blow for the Germans and anybody who enjoys the game.
A complete attacker and set-piece specialist who scored 16 goals in 13 appearances for Borussia Dortmund this year, Germany will have to rely on a deep reserve of exceptional young midfielders to attempt to make up for his absence.
Thomas Muller — one of seven Bayern Munich players in the squad — will likely move over from the right side to fill the empty spot, while another Bayern star, 22-year-old Mario Gotze, will come off the bench to round out the XI.
While Reus excels at putting the ball in and around the penalty box, Gotze is a more traditional playmaker with exceptional dribbling skills that looks to cut the defense open with incisive passing. He may be coming off of Germany’s bench, but Gotze is one of the best players on Bayern and would be a starter for every team in this tournament.
Defensively Germany are almost as formidable as they are going forward, with the best goalkeeper in the tournament, Manuel Neuer, between the sticks. In front of him is the world’s tallest center-back pairing with Mats Hummals and Per Mertesacker coming in at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6 respectively.
In front of those two is Germany’s best player and tactician Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup veteran who controls the center of the park with pin-point passing that has become his trademark for — you guessed it — Bayern Munich.
There is a slight question mark at central-striker following the Mario Gomez injury, with Germans relying on Miroslav Klose, a talented but aging legend. Klose has scored 14 goals in the World Cup, second all-time. If he keeps that form, the Germans will be a goal scoring machine.
Germany are one of the three most talented teams in this tournament, and on paper might have the most talent of any country in the world. This is one of the toughest groups in the tournament, but should still be a breeze for this experienced squad.
SPI Rank: 15; FIFA World Ranking: 37
2010 World Cup: Eliminated in Quarter-final
Odds to advance to knock-out stages: 29.7 percent
Ghana have advanced past the group stage in their last two — and only — World Cup appearances, and come into the tournament on a hot run of form, going 6-1-0 during World Cup qualifying.
The heart and soul of this team is still 28-year-old striker Asamoah Gyan, who is entering his third World Cup coming off a six goal in six match performance during qualifying, and an incredible 59 goals in 47 appearances for his club Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates this season.
Gyan will be joined up top by 22-year-old Marseille striker Abdul Majeed Waris. Waris is unproven on the international level, but gives the Black Stars much needed width with his speed on the outside.
While the form of the strikers may determine Ghana’s fate in Brazil, a talented, veteran midfield will be charged with providing the service for the talented goal scorers.
AC Milan’s Michael Essien returns after missing South Africa 2010 due to injury, and he will be joined by another former AC Milan star in the midfield, in the more offensive minded Kevin-Prince Boateng. Sully Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah round out a group in the center that will not be frightened on the big stage.
Like so many in this World Cup, the questions for Ghana remain at the back. Yes they only allowed six goals in eight games during qualifying, but their toughest opponent was Egypt, a team that managed to find the net three times over two legs.
Add to that the departure of veteran center-back pairing John Paintsil and John Mensah, for the inexperienced Rashid Sumaila and John Boye, and Ghana’s counterattacking style suddenly looks like it could have a fatal flaw.
But Ghana seem to play their best on the biggest stage, and have a squad full of talented players that every team in this tournament would rather not face — especially first-round opponent and two-time Ghana victim, the United States.
Ghana have a tough draw this go around, and the match against the US in the first game will probably decide whether or not they are headed out of the group for the third consecutive time.
SPI Rank: 14; FIFA World Ranking: 4
2010 World Cup: Eliminated in Quarter-final
Odds to advance to knock-out stages: 47.7 percent
Nobody can seem to decide whether Portugal are one of the world’s best — as their FIFA ranking would suggest — or just another good team.
Selecção das Quinas not only failed to win their group in qualifying, but couldn’t achieve victories against the likes of Israel and Northern Ireland. It goes without saying that Portugal will have to be much better in Brazil if they want to make noise in this tournament, let alone advance from Group G.
The prevailing narrative is that Portugal are essentially Cristiano Ronaldo and 10 other guys. That’s not accurate in the sense that Portugal have other fine players, but Ronaldo will shoulder most or all of the responsibility to create chances on the offensive end.
Ronaldo is coming off a Ballon d’Or victory — given to the worlds best player — in 2013 after finishing second two years in a row behind Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo has enough talent and is given enough freedom to win games by himself, even when his team is struggling. He did exactly that against Sweden in their final playoff leg, scoring three second half goals and earning a World Cup birth.
Even if you manage to somehow put a lid on Ronaldo in open play, his ability to score on the free kick or via header make him essentially unstoppable as an offensive threat. He plays BETTER against good teams too, scoring an amazing 17 goals in 11 Champions League matches en route to winning the tournament in 2014.
Defensively the Portuguese should be pretty solid, with a spine consisting of Bruno Alves, Pepe and Joao Pereira, the latter an offensive minded fullback who’s always looking to find Ronaldo’s noggin with crosses into the box.
Usually this much emphasis on one player would spell doom for any side’s World Cup chances, but the once in a lifetime quality of Ronaldo mean Portugal could do almost anything – even win the tournament – if he gets on a roll. Conversely an injury or poor game from the star might be a death knell for the Portuguese, who will scramble to find scoring elsewhere.
SPI Rank: 21; FIFA World Ranking: 13
2010 World Cup: Eliminated in Round of 16
Odds to advance to knock-out stages: 34.3 percent
Let make something clear right off the bat: Since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as manager in 2011, the United States are playing the best soccer they have in over a decade. Finishing first in CONCACAF qualifying and winning the Gold Cup last summer, the United States should be confident heading into Brazil that they belong on the pitch with anybody.
But with this hellish draw, confidence might not be enough. The United States will surprise almost everybody if they are able advance in a group against three teams with more recent World Cup success.
The fact remains that we really have no idea how good this U.S. side is, as the quality the Yanks faced during qualifying pales in comparison to their Group G competition.
The biggest story for the Americans is who didn’t make the team, when the greatest American player of all time — Landon Donovan — was left off the World Cup roster. Since his arrival, Klinsmann has preached form over reputation, but nobody ever expected Donovan would’t play well enough make a team that isn’t exactly a world power.
The move did mark a passing of the torch of sorts to Michael Bradley, easily the best player on the team and a sublime talent who could feature almost anywhere in Europe.
Bradley is a classic central midfielder, tasked with breaking up passes in the defensive half and providing key passes in the attacking third, as he did brilliantly in recent wins against Nigeria and Turkey.
Joining him in the midfield is another fantastic talent in German-American Jermaine Jones, who has been forced into a more defensive role playing alongside the versatile Bradley. Captain Clint Dempsey will play in front of those two, and is experiencing his best run of form since finishing third in the Premier League in Player of the Year voting in 2012.
The midfield is solid, and probably the best the United States has ever had, but there are huge question marks at either end of the pitch.
The quest to find a center-back pairing has been ongoing ever since Klinsmann arrived.
A few months ago it was all but certain that Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez would be the starters, but a combination of injury and a absolute shit run of form for both club and country has knocked Gonazalez out of the starting XI — we think — to be replaced by Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron.
Cameron is a first-teamer in the Premier League, and American fans should feel much more comfortable with this pairing, as Cameron faces world-class talent on a weekly basis in England.
The pairing doesn’t have a lot of experience together so that could be an issue, but at least the American’s can take solace at the full-back positions, with veteran DeMarcus Besley and Fabian Johnson — the most underrated player on the squad — as two of the teams most consistent players.
Up top it’s all about Jozy Altidore, who finally ended his goal scoring drought after a truly horrible year at Premier League side Sunderland, where he managed only one goal in 30 appearances.
Dempsey can moonlight as a second striker, and the young Aron Jóhannsson was incredible for his Dutch club scoring 26 goals this year, but a ton of pressure will be on the physically-imposing Altidore to make the most of his chances. Failing to do so could spell the end of the United States’ World Cup hopes.
This team is good, but advancing out of this group will be a success. The exclusion of American legend and fan favorite Donovan puts a ton of pressure on Klinsmann to deliver. A poor showing could cause an already skeptical American public to turn on the German.
* Percentages based on 10,000 simulations of the six group games using ESPN’s Soccer Power Index.