Four years ago, fans of the United States Men’s National Team were exhilarated to learn that their country was lucky to draw one of the weakest groups of the World Cup.
Being placed in a group with Slovenia and Algeria meant that the Americans were instant favorites to make it to the knockout round, which they eventually achieved in miraculous fashion.
This time around, the boys rocking the red, white and blue weren’t so lucky. Unfortunately, they’re in this World Cup’s group of death.
For those who aren’t familiar, the “group of death” is the name given to the one group out of the eight that is considered the most difficult to advance from. With all four of the teams in Group G, which includes the US, Germany, Portugal and Ghana, having reached the last 16 in South Africa, it’s easy to see why this is considered the toughest set of teams.
Beginning with the Americans, there is no questioning the passion and resilience of a team long considered to be inferior by its neighbors to the South and by the dominant nations of Europe. The US has reached a national ranking of 14 thanks to its dominance over the CONCACAF region over the past year, taking first place in the Gold Cup and finishing atop their World Cup Qualifying table.
Their excellent play under Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann resulted in a 12-game winning streak in 2013, the longest in US history and just three away from the all-time longest streak held by Spain.
The return of Landon Donovan didn’t hurt, either. After nearly a full year hiatus from the national team as he pondered retirement, Donovan, the man considered the greatest American soccer player of all time, returned to the pitch in excellent form, scoring and assisting goals at will.
Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore weren’t too bad themselves, with both players going on historic goal-scoring streaks as they led their team through the qualifying rounds.
For the Americans, it never has been about having the same overall talent as an Argentina, or the same discipline as a Germany. For them, their greatest advantage every time they step on the field will always be one thing: their heart. That’s what got them past Algeria in South Africa and that’s what they will need to somehow find their way out of this extremely competitive group.
The United States just so happen to open their World Cup campaign against the team that knocked them out of each of the last two Cups in Ghana.
As one of the few truly competitive teams out of Africa, the No. 35 ranked Ghaneans come in with a lot of pride and an underwhelming amount of respect. They have recognizable names in their starting XI in Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah, Michael Essien and of course, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan (the two players who scored in Ghana’s 2-1 victory over the US in 2010).
The No. 2 ranked Germans come in as one of the favorites to win the World Cup as they usually do. The Germans have cultivated an outstanding balance of brilliant young players, including Thomas Muller, Marco Reus and Mesut Ozil, with a steady group of veterans that includes Bastian Schweinsteiger and Bayern Munich captain Philip Lahm.
Defensively, they possess the man considered the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, and Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng as reliable centerbacks.
Overall, Germany is a well-rounded, disciplined, extremely talented team with few weaknesses. However, their greatest strength will be their mindset. Third place in South Africa was not good enough – this team wants to crush everyone in its path and its only goal is to hold the trophy up when it’s all said and done.
Rounding out the group are Cristiano Ronaldo and his supporting cast of Portugal. Ronaldo is the man of the moment, having just won the 2013 Ballon d’Or and taking the reputation of best in the world away from Lionel Messi. He has simply been performing on another level over the past year and he will need to continue to do so if he hopes to find glory in Brazil.
Manchester United’s Nani hasn’t gotten the playing time he might deserve in the EPL, but he is a dynamic talent to watch out for while Cristiano gets all the attention. Joao Moutinho will be running this Portuguese side from the midfield as he and the rest of the team try to play to Ronaldo’s high standards.
For most of us around here, Group G will be the group to watch. Most of us can only hope that the US national team will make us proud again by making it out of the group stage, but it will be as difficult a task as ever with this set of teams around them.
But how could they provide us with another miracle without that challenge? We’ll just have to wait two and a half more months to see if the American heart will be enough.