Preparing for Group G

With the United States National Team drawn into the “Group of Death” for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, expectations for the team have been somewhat muted. Opta’s simulation recently gave the U.S. a 38% chance of advancing out of Group G, while Vegas odds are hovering around 5/2 or a 40% chance of making the knockout stages.

But while the path to the Round of 16 will undoubtedly be difficult, the draw has set up what should be three very entertaining matches against Ghana, Portugal and Germany. The U.S. has seen all three opponents in past World Cups and can take heart from past performances against each.

Here is a look at the Americans’ three Group G opponents:

Ghana (June 16 at 6 p.m. ET, Estadio Das Dunas in Natal):

World Cup History v. the U.S.: The U.S. has faced Ghana in each of the last two World Cups. In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the U.S. fell 2-1 to Ghana in overtime in the Round of 16. Four years prior, the Americans – thanks in part to a controversial penalty kick – fell 2-1 to Ghana in the final game of Group E in Germany, ending any hopes of the U.S. advancing.

Other History: The two World Cup matches are the only times the U.S. has met Ghana at the full international level.

The Highlight: While there aren’t many highlights for the U.S. against Ghana, one bright spot came in the 2006 World Cup loss with then New England Revolution star Clint Dempsey announcing his arrival as an international force by scoring a stunning strike to temporarily knot the score at 1-1.

Why the U.S. Can Win: Few would argue this 2014 U.S. team isn’t stronger than the 2010 edition that featured the likes of Ricardo Clark, Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley in the starting XI. A Clark turnover led to Ghana’s opening goal in 2010 and then Head Coach Bob Bradley was forced to recognize his tactical mistake in line-up selection by subbing out Clark in just the 31st minute. After making further adjustments at halftime, the U.S. actually outplayed Ghana for most of the match, finishing with more shots, corners and possessions, though they eventually fell in overtime. Even in 2006, the U.S. out-possessed and won five more corners than Ghana.

While Ghana may have won both prior match-ups against the U.S. their performances were hardly dominant. With better tactics, there is no reason to believe Jurgen Klinsmann can’t led the U.S. to their first ever victory over Ghana.

Portugal (June 22 at 3 p.m. ET, Arena Amazonia in Manaus):

World Cup History: The U.S. has met Portugal just once in the World Cup, stunning the heavily favored Portuguese 3-2 in the first game of Group D in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. The win started a historic World Cup campaign that saw the U.S. advance to the Quarterfinals.

Other History: While the U.S. hasn’t faced Portugal since the 2002 World Cup, they had faced A Selecção four times prior in friendlies. Altogether the U.S. holds a .500 record (2-2-1) against Portugal, but has won the most recent two meetings (2002 World Cup and a 1-0 win in Chicago in 1992). The Americans’ only loses – both 1-0 – came in Portugal (1990 in Porto and 1978 in Benfica). The two sides drew 1-1 in 1990 in Lisbon.

The Highlight: The U.S. 3-2 win over Portugal was arguably the side’s biggest World Cup upset since their 1950 World Cup win over England in Brazil. The Golden Generation of Portugal had World Cup Championship aspirations, but the U.S. win helped assure they wouldn’t even make it past the group stage.

Why the U.S. Can Win: 2002 is probably a bit too far removed to take much hope from, but that shouldn’t stop the Americans from believing they can beat Portugal. Portugal may feature one of the top two players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, but the side is hardly unbeatable. In qualifying Portugal finished second to Russia in UEFA’s Group F and needed a play-off to make it to the World Cup. Portugal suffered some embarrassing results in qualifying, including home draws against Northern Ireland and Israel. Among their recent friendly results are a home loss to Ecuador and a road draw with Gabon.

Portugal may have a lot of talent, but they are surely beatable if the U.S. can put in a good performance. Klinsmann led Germany to a 3-1 win over Portugal in the third place match of the 2006 World Cup.

Germany (June 26 at Noon ET, Arena Pernambuco in Recife):

World Cup History: This will mark the United States’ third World Cup meeting with Germany. In 2002, the U.S. met Germany in the quarterfinals and largely outplayed their highly favored European foes, but fell 1-0 thanks in part to a blatant handball on the line by Torsten Frings that went ignored by the referee, denying the U.S. a well deserve equalizer. The U.S. also fell 2-0 to Germany in the group stages of a forgettable 1998 World Cup in France in which the U.S. lost all three group stage games while scoring only a single goal.

Other History: The U.S. has faced Germany a total of nine times, picking up three wins and six losses. Most recently the U.S. defeated Germany 4-3 in Washington, D.C. this summer, though the German squad was without many of its stars. The U.S. suffered a heavy 4-1 defeat to the Klinsmann-led Germany in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup and a 4-2 loss prior to the 2002 World Cup, with both matches in Germany. The U.S. had won their two prior matches, however, defeating the Germans 2-0 in Mexico in the 1999 Confederations Cup, and 3-0 in a Jacksonville, Florida friendly that same year. Germany won the first three matches between the teams with two 1993 friendly wins and the 1998 World Cup win.

The Highlight: Sure, it was a loss, but the impressive performance by the U.S. against Germany in the 2002 World Cup dwarfs any friendly win by the U.S.

If you’re looking for some U.S. wins, however, check out these highlights of the American’s 2-0 1999 Confederations Cup win – featuring a stunning free kick goal by former Revolution striker Joe-Max Moore – or these highlights of the U.S. 4-3 friendly win this summer.

Why the U.S. Can Win:  This is almost certainly the most difficult match for the U.S. The Germans went unbeaten through qualifying with nine wins and just one draw. In fact Germany’s only loss in 2013 – and only loss in the last 17 matches – was that 4-3 loss to the U.S. But while the side the U.S. beat this summer will likely look little like what the U.S. will face in 2014, that win will surely give the Americans some confidence going into the match. Klinsmann’s knowledge of the German National Team could also prove priceless in preparing for the match.

What could be the American’s biggest ally going into the match, however, is the fact they play Germany third. There’s a distinct possibility Germany may already have their place in the next round locked up going into the match and if that’s the case, they will likely rotate their squad to stay fresh for the next round. If that scenario plays out, perhaps the German side won’t look so different from what the U.S. saw this summer after all.

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue