THE DAY HAS arrived! Tonight sees the start of the 20th FIFA World Cup. We continue our preview of the groups with a look at Group G, which will be one of the most exciting and open. European giants Germany and Portugal will be expecting to qualify however Africa’s Ghana and CONCACAF’s United States of America will fancy their chances of causing an upset.
At every World Cup tournament Germany are considered one of the favourites to lift the famous trophy and 2014 is no different.
Joachim Low has a mixture of young and exciting talent at his disposal to choose from and can name two starting line-ups, both of which will be good enough to go far in the competition.
In a recent poll in leading sports magazine, Kicker, 86 per cent of the readers said that they expect their side to reach at-least the quarter-finals. To do so they will need to ensure they are switched on at the back as past results have raised concerns.
A 4-4 draw at home to Sweden and a 5-3 away win, against the same opposition showed their defensive lapses in the qualifiers. It continued in February this year when they lost 4-3 to USA in a friendly match.
With Jerome Boateng and Per Mertesacker at the heart of the defence they will be expected to sort out their communication issues in time for the opening game against Portugal. Bayern’s Boateng is error prone with his club side and will need the help of the more experienced Mertesacker.
Germany’s main strength is in their midfield where they have a host of quality players who would walk into most international sides. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been a colossus for many years and has 102 caps to date; and he is only 29. With Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil in front of him, the creative engines in midfield, they will be vital to any potential success the Germans experience.
Up front much will be expected of Miroslav Klose, who only needs one goal to equal the all-time World Cup record, which is 15, set by Brazil’s Ronaldo in 2006. Klose is the only out-an-out striker in the German squad but will be backed up by Bayern Munich pair Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze from midfield.
If they are to win the tournament then Germany will have to get rid of their ‘chokers’ tag which pundits in the country have consistently thrown at Low’s side down the years.
In the 2002 World Cup they lost in the final to Brazil and they finished 3rd in 2006 and 2010. Their recent European Championship history hasn’t been as kind either as they lost the 2008 final to Spain and got knocked out by Italy in the semi-finals in 2012.
Low has been in charge since July 2006 and has overseen an exciting new dawn in German football. He is known for his attacking philosophy and his expectation from his side to give 100% in every match. His motivation and tactical qualities make him one of the best coaches in world football.
Experienced heads such as Klose, Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer and Schweinsteiger will be expected to lead the side through the tournament and, despite being put in one of the toughest groups, should advance at least to the semi-finals where the pressure to succeed will be huge.
“We have the quality to win our first world title in 24 years. We certainly have the strength in-depth. ‘Jogi’ Low has 30-35 top-class players and has two or three good alternatives for every position, There’s a good atmosphere in the camp, everyone involved communicates well and there’s no rivalries between the Bayern and Dortmund players. We’ve nearly all the ingredients one needs to go all the way. The only thing we lack is the nasty characters.” Lothar Matthaus, captained Germany to 1990 World Cup success.
Route to the finals: 1st in European qualifying Group C
Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1
Key man: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Manager: Joachim Low
Largely dependent on one man the Portuguese go into the tournament knowing they are up against it in the group stage. With the support of the Brazilian public though, anything could happen.
Cristiano Ronaldo is without question the star man for Selecao and much will be expected of him at this tournament. The Real Madrid forward comes into the World Cup on the back of winning the UEFA Champions League with his club side and will be hoping for more success this summer. An injury sustained in the past few weeks threatened his participation; but all of Portugal breathed a sigh of relief when he stepped out onto the field for a friendly with Ireland this week.
Paulo Bento’s men will be supported by not just their fans from back home but also a large percentage of the Brazilian people, due to the millions of emigrants and Portuguese descendants living in the South American country.
And looking at their group they will need all the support they can get after being dealt a tough draw. Germany, Ghana and USA will be tricky opponents and considering it took a play-off to confirm their qualification, they could be one of the top sides to be eliminated early on.
Finishing 2nd behind Russia in European qualifying it took a man-of-the-match performance from Ronaldo against Sweden to book their ticket to these finals, he scored all four goals in a 4-2 aggregate win, but they will have to sort out their attacking line-up. Hugo Almeider and Helder Postiga are their main two strikers and they struggle to score goals for the national side. Much will be expected of Nani, Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho to provide the assists and goals to take Portugal into the second round.
Injury and form worries over key players like Fabio Coentrao, Moutinho and Pepe have also overshadowed their build-up but Bento will hope that has now been put to bed. The stunning rise of Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho has given hope to the future and expect him to be one of the rising stars in Brazil.
Despite all the doubts around this Portuguese team it has been known in the past for the national side to overcome their doubters and perform when it matters most. In both the 2000 and 2012 European Championship tournaments Portugal were given tough groups but reached the semi-finals on both occasions.
They will be hoping for similar success this time and with Ronaldo leading the charge, don’t write off their chances just yet.
“I expect Portugal to cause a surprise. I expect Portugal to give the performances in the group phase that will make people see them as one of the potential favourites for the World Cup. I hope to see them go from outsiders to one of the favourites to win the tournament. It’s crucially important for Portugal that Cristiano Ronaldo is playing at full fitness. The favourites for this World Cup, because they are the hosts, are Brazil. Then you have to include Spain, Germany and Argentina as the major favourites. But like I said, I expect Portugal, after the opening phase, to join this group as one of the favourites to win the trophy”. Vitor Baia, capped 80 times by Portugal.
Route to the finals: 2nd in European qualifying Group F. Beat Sweden 4-2 on aggregate in play-off
Preferred formation: 4-3-3
Key man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Manager: Paulo Bento
Confidence is vital heading into a World Cup tournament and the Black Stars have that in abundance. After being put in a tough group they firmly believe that they can cause an upset and qualify for the second round. Overconfidence could be their downfall.
Qualification for the finals was straightforward – despite a scare in the play-offs. In a group alongside Lesotho, Sudan and Zambia Kwesi Appiah’s men only suffered one defeat and advanced to face Egypt for a place in Brazil. They lost the first leg 2-1 but destroyed their opponents 6-1 in the return which booked their place the the World Cup.
Four years ago they were the surprise package in South Africa as they reached the quarter-finals. An Asamoah Gyan penalty-miss in the last-minute of extra time against Uruguay caused widespread heartbreak across Africa, and they went out on penalties.
This time they firmly believe they can get through a group which consists of Germany, Portugal and the USA.
If they are to realise their dreams however they will need to ensure that their whole squad is on top-form. With lots of quality attacking players at their disposal, anything is possible.
Andre Ayew, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah will use their strength, skills and intelligence to create havoc for opposing defences and hope that record-goalscorer Gyan makes up for his miss four years ago.
With their defence a main worry their two holding midfielders will be key to their participation in the latter stages of the finals. Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari have 135 appearances between them for the Africans and they will need to be switched on at all times.
Goalkeeper Fatua Dauda has struggled for form as of late and concerns remain over their goalkeeping position. Poor kicking, decision-making and handling errors have caused headaches for Appiah.
Much will be expected of John Boye and Jonathan Mensah in defence to help out their number one and avoid the possibility of a group stage exit.
Ghana’s recent performances in international tournaments won’t help their chances however of proving people wrong. In both the African Cup of Nations in 2012 and 2013 they lost in the semi-finals and finished fourth overall, even though on both occasions they were expected to advance to the final.
The expectation proved too much for them on those occasions and it is hoped that with little expected of them in Brazil, their free-flowing attacking football can help them cause an upset or two.
“I believe that the tournament is really going to show us high-class football – and one thing also I have noticed in tournaments is that there is always a revelation.” Tony Baffoe, a former Ghana full-back.
Route to the finals: 1st in African qualifying Group 2. Beat Egypt 7-3 on aggregate in play-off
Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1
Key man: Kevin-Prince Boateng
Manager: Kwesi Appiah
The Americans are a side who cause plenty of headaches to their fans and have a manager in Jurgen Klinsmann who doesn’t know his first choice 11. Qualification seemed easy enough but each game the USA caused widespread panic for their supporters.
Each and every game Klinsmann chops and changes his side and they head into the World Cup not knowing who will line up at the heart of the defence. Where will Fabian Johnson play? Why was Landon Donovan and Michael Parkhurst left out?
Both players were seen as vital pieces of the USA armoury, especially the LA Galaxy midfielder who has made 156 appearances for his country, yet Klinsmann felt that the countries all-time top goalscorer wasn’t needed. It sent shock waves through world football, American fans and the media went crazy. If the gamble pays off Klinsmann will be applauded, if it doesn’t he will be vilified.
The States beat fellow group rivals Germany 4-3 in a friendly match back in February and have also beaten Italy – in Italy. However in qualifying they lost to Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica, and struggled to beat Panama, which leads as a reminder that this side has plenty of faults.
After finishing top of Group A in Round Three in CONCACAF qualifying they were expected to qualify with little trouble in the last round. They did so, finishing 11 points ahead of Mexico in fourth, but their biggest win was 2-0 showing their struggles to break down lesser opponents.
That doesn’t bode well heading into the World Cup, especially after being put in an extremely challenging group, and will face three very good sides. They will need the core players such as Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey Tim Howard and Fabian Johnson to stand-up and be counted and replicate the successes of the 2002 World Cup side who qualified from a tough draw in Korea and Japan.
With 10 players plying their trade in the MLS, the countries domestic league, it is the most amount of players picked from the league since its existence. That shows that football, or soccer as the Americans call it, is improving in that part of the world and they hope they will enhance the reputation of the league by performing well in Brazil.
A friendly against Mexico in March showcased the problems and strengths Klinsmann’s side has. The first-half was one of the best performances any American side had ever played. They led 2-0 and were cruising. However the second-half was 45 minutes to forget. The defence, which is a major worry, were caught out numerous times and the hosts clawed back the deficit to draw 2-2.
Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson or Omar Gonzalez are expected to partner Besler in defence but as of yet no one knows who will be given the nod to start.
America’s two main players are in top form for their club sides right now which is vital heading into the tournament. Bradley and Dempsey need to continue their good form and hope that Max Diskerud, Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi are on top-form to support Jozy Altidore, the lone man up-top.
The American faithful will be hopeful their side can take points of Germany and/or Portugal and sneak their way into the last 16 but they need to sort out their defensive inefficiencies first.
“On paper, the United States, has little or no chance of getting out of their group in the World Cup. But the US is a group of believers and their Jurgen Klinsmann is a masterful motivator. Michael Bradley is in great form and will need to stay healthy for Klinsmann to play the possession-orientated football he so desperately desires. Probably the biggest factor going against the US is the fact that they have gained enough respect that teams will now take them very seriously.” Steve Sampson, former national coach.
Route to the finals: 1st in North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Clint Dempsey
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann