2014 World Cup – Group G (Day Three Preview)

This post will be updated as Group G progresses…

Group G Preview (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, USA)
The proverbial “Group of Death.”  Now, obviously, it is not good for the American chances to be placed in such a ridiculous group, but it also should be looked at as subtle praise from the worldwide community.  If Team USA was given no respect, then this would not exactly be a “Group of Death” now would it?  That being said, the Stars & Bars are decided underdogs to get out of this group and may be the fourth-best team in the group.  Germany would be the class of any group they are in, as they are here to win the whole thing, not just survive some difficult group.  Portugal is now quite as strong as they have been in the past, but they do boast a transcendent player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and a wealth of talent elsewhere on the roster.  (While we’re here, I just have to say that it seems ridiculous that Portugal never gets a spot in that top bucket for the draw.  It almost assures that they will be in a ridiculous group because they are of the quality of the top teams and yet are selected amongst teams like Algeria, Croatia, and Greece.)  And, then there is the Ghana team that has eliminated Team USA in the past two World Cups and might have their best team ever.  I feel worse for the Ghanaians to have to be in this group than anyone because they can really make some noise in this tournament if their group position was switched with, say, Nigeria or Cameroon.  In the end, ‘ze Germans are clearly strong enough to survive any group, even this one, and the Portugese are probably the best bet to be the other qualifier.  Though, if they stumble, both USA and Ghana are both good enough to qualify.  Just getting out of the group stage here for the Red, White, and Blue would be quite the accomplishment.

6/16, noon – Germany vs. Portugal
What an incredible match to kick off the “Group of Death.”  With all respect to Spain-Netherlands, this is probably the best match of the entire group stage.  I am glad that it is an opening match because if this were Day Three or even Day Two, these two sides could just sit back and be content with a draw.  But, hopefully, the excitement of the moment and the fact that this is such a tough group and this is only the first match will lead to some wide open play from two sides that can really excite.  Anything can happen here and a loss here wouldn’t be the end of the world for either side, but Germany certainly has to be considered the favorites here, so a draw would be more uplifting for Portugal than Germany.  A Portugal win would definitely force the rest of the field to take notice both of the Portugese success and the Germans rough start.

Germany 4 – Portugal 0
I don’t claim to be a soccer officianado.  And, I don’t even follow club soccer.  But, I have now paid very serious attention to the last 5 major international tournaments (the World Cups in ’06, ’10, and ’14 and the Euro Championships in ’08 and ’12), and there is one thing to which I have grown all to accustomed.  While ultra-talented and experienced, the Portugese squad simply wilts under any adversity.  The minute things go south, they lose their heads and they fail to execute.  I have no idea why this is, but it is almost a given.  Another thing I have learned is that, if you don’t stay focused defensively, the Germans could drop a 4=spot on you in a HURRY.  Both of those things showed through in spades in the first game of Group G, as the Germans looked incredibly sharp and the Portugese gave an incredibly embarrassing performance.  For fans of the USA, this game couldn’t have gone better, as not only did Portugal lose by 4, but three key contributors will probably miss Sunday’s match with the USA, due to injuries and a red card to Pepe.  Germany made a statement here, and I’m guessing it was heard loud and clear around Group G and beyond.

6/16, 6:00 – Ghana vs. USA
Starting with Ghana could be a blessing or a curse for our national team.  One, it allows the US to get its easiest match of the tournament out of the way early.  However, this “easiest match” is really, really tough, so a defeat here might effectively end the tournament the same day it starts for our hometown boys.  And, a defeat here is certainly in the cards.  The Ghanaians are pretty much in the exact same position, as this is their easiest match, as well, so both teams will be desperate to get a good result here in advance of dates with a pair of World Top 5s.  This may actually be one of those matches where both teams really need 3 – which is a recipe for some terrific entertainment.  I think a draw here might spell trouble for both squads, where at least if there is a winner, that side will have a real shot to make it through.  Either way, it should be interesting.  And, either way, I’m so torn because these are the two teams I most strongly support in this year’s field.  Obviously, as an American, I want my country to acquit itself well, but I also have a real soft spot for West Africa and, Ghana, in particular, having lived for two years in the neighboring Togo.  Is it out of the question that these two teams could actually be the two knockout stage representatives from Group H?  Uh…ya, probably.

USA 2 – Ghana 1
This is probably the first match all tournament where the winning side was clearly outplayed all game.  The Americans shot out like a rocket, scoring in :29 seconds, but then went on to be thoroughly dominated for about 85 minutes.  Fortunately, for the Stars & Stripes, they only conceded one Ghanaian goal (Tim Howard is RIDICULOUS) and ended up scoring another one of their own in the 86th minute.  You have to hand it to guys like Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, who played out of their minds on defense.  However, on a day that was almost entirely great for the Americans, there was some bad news, as Jozy Altidore – probably the least replaceable player on the American side – may be lost for the tournament.  Still, this was a GIGANTIC three points for the Patriots and a crushing blow to Ghana, who has to somehow regroup in time for a crazy difficult match with Germany where a loss would all but end their tournament.

Day One Recap
Day One sure threw the Group of Death for a loop, as the Portugese had a nightmare of a day, while the Americans had the perfect opening day.  While the Germans reaffirmed that they were the class of this very difficult group, Team USA may have established itself as the odds-on favorite to qualify behind ‘Ze Germans here.  Portugal’s disaster, however, will be all but forgotten if they can come through with a pair of victories over USA and Ghana.  The Ghanaians must be sick about their result, as they dominated the Americans in a loss and with Portugal wounded, that second spot could have easily been theirs.  Now, they have a date with Germany where they have to get a point or go home.

6/21, 3:00 – Germany vs. Ghana
The Ghanaians certainly have the backs against the wall here, now, after dominating the Americans only to come away with nothing.  The Germans, who embarrassed Portugal, 4-0, in the opener present a ridiculously tough challenge here if Ghana is really going to try and make it out of the Group of Death.  A draw here would be an extraordinary effort for one of Africa’s elite sides, and that still might not be enough to get them through.  Fans of the US should be rooting hard for Germany here because the best shot the Americans have of pulling out a point in the final match against the Germans is if they have very little to play for.  Hell a red card for Mueller or Ozul or something like that wouldn’t hurt, either, haha.

Germany 2 – Ghana 2
Doogan said he missed the second half of this match, well, my friend, you probably missed the best 45 minutes of soccer we have seen yet in Brazil.  After an interesting, but relatively uneventful first half, the second half was THRILLING.  Both sides had leads; both sides were attacking and showing individual brilliance as well as team brilliance.  In the end, the Ghanaians got what they needed to stay alive (though a second yellow for Sully Mutari in stoppage time could really hurt going forward in their final match with Portugal).  It was a little disappointing for the Black Stars, as they did hold a lead late, but a loss would have been devastating, so they will take it.  The Germans are now sitting on 4 points with a date with the Americans and a goal differential advantage, so their mission is clear – draw with Team USA and win the group.

6/22, 6:00 – Portugal vs. USA
The one we are all waiting for comes Sunday evening.  Cristiano Ronaldo and his band of frustrated Portugese take on America’s Team, fresh off being dominated in their 2-1 victory over Ghana.  Fortune seems to be smiling on the Stars and Stripes, as Portugal may be without at least 3 important players (Pepe due to a red card and two others due to injury).  Ronaldo also was reported to leave a recent practice with a knee injury, but it is hard to believe that he won’t be suited up and ready to go.  What Coach Klinsmann does about the Jozy Altidore injury should be really interesting, as Aron Johannson looked overmatched against Ghana, and there are no other real options on the roster.  As much talk as there is about the team right now, there is no doubt that the Portugese are decided favorites in this match.  But, then again, one quick goal seems to unravel the Portugese at these major tournaments, so we will see if the boys can strike quickly again.

Portugal 2 – USA 2
There is no doubt that the US got a draw out of a match where they played considerably better than they did in their opening victory.  This was a very encouraging draw, despite the fact that they gave up a terrible goal in the 5th minute and blew a lead in the 95th minute.  Jermaine Jones (who has been the player player on the roster so far for the Americans) looked really good, while Clint Dempsey continued to look like a bonafied world class creator up front.  Michael Bradley looked better in this one than his nightmarish performance against Ghana, which is a good sign, and Tim Howard continues to show why he is one of the best in the world at tending net.  While the Americans were literally seconds away from qualification, and the Portugese were seconds away from elimination, things are still looking good for Team USA.  First of all, all they need to do to advance is to draw against a Germany team that only needs a draw to win the group.  But, even if they lose to Germany, they should retain a considerable enough goal differential advantage over Portugal to carry the day.  The real concern for the Americans now is if Ghana goes out and gets a multi-goal victory over Portugal and the USA loses to Germany, the Ghanaians could go through.  But, right now, the smart money should be on Germany winning the group and the USA following them to the knockout stage where they would take on a yet-to-get-going Belgium side.

Day Two Recap
What a fascinating round of 2-2 draws.  Honestly.  Maybe the three best matches of the tournament were all draws (I think these two are probably a half-step behind the Mexico-Brazil 0-0 draw, which I still believe was the best match of the tournament thus far).  This might be the most fascinating groups left entering the final round of matches.  Germany and the USA are sitting on 4 points, while Ghana and Portugal are on 1.  The leaders play each other and the chasers play each other.  So, the stage is set for great theatrics on Thursday afternoon.  Obviously, a Ghana-Portugal draw would eliminate both sides (which means we could see some crazy, wide-open play), while a Germany-USA draw would qualify both sides (which means we could see some boring, conservative play).  With Germany holding the edge in goal differential, they have nothing to gain from winning over drawing, and with the Americans happy to get through, things are set up nicely for a draw there.  If your an American fan and you are worried about getting beat by Germany, the real hope here is to just keep it close and root for Portugal to beat (but not blow out) Ghana.  This should be great!

6/26, noon – Germany vs. USA
6/26, noon – Ghana vs. Portugal

There is some intrigue here in Group G, but not as much as one might think.  With Germany only needing a draw to win the group, and the USA only needing a draw to qualify (which is fine with them), there is a VERY high likelihood that this game will end in a draw.  I am sick of people here coming to the same conclusion and then insinuating some sort of collusion.  There is no collusion here.  Just think about it this way – Germany will be no better with a win than a draw.  The USA, while advantaged by a win, would not consider winning the group as much of a positive as missing the group would be a negative.  So, they would be very content with a draw.  That doesn’t mean that the teams will just kick the ball around for 90 minutes and call it a day, but what it DOES mean is that both sides are likely to approach the game from the opening minute AS IF THEY HELD A 1-0 LEAD.  Does that mean that neither team will try and score?  Not at all.  Does that mean that neither team will score?  Absolutely not.  We see 1-0 games get tied 1-1 all the time.  We also see 1-0 games go to 2-0.  However, teams do change the way they play based on being ahead, behind, or tied, right?  Teams up a goal get a little more conservative and defensive-minded, while the team that is down gets more aggressive in their attacks even though it might leave them vulnerable on the back side.  Well, in a case like this BOTH teams will play as if they held the lead.  That does not – in any way – GUARANTEE a draw, but it certainly increases its likelihood.  And, unless there is a result in the Germany-USA match, this group is decided.  If there is a result (much more likely a German win than an American one), then it really comes down to Ghana.  For the reasons described above, it is VERY unlikely that the Germany-USA game is a rout, so if there is a result, let’s assume a 1-0 Germany win.  That means that for Portugal to qualify, they would need to beat Ghana by 4+ goals.  That is highly unlikely, so Portugal is an incredible longshot.  Ghana, on the other hand, does have a shot.  They would either need to beat Portugal by 2+ goals or win a 1-goal game in which they scored at least 2.  If they win 1-0 and Germany wins 1-0, the USA still goes through on the strength of the third tiebreaker – head-to-head.  Let us just say that the Americans are VERY safe right now.  So safe, in fact, that Vegas has set the line at -900 that Team USA qualifies for the knockout stage.  That means that to win $100 by the US qualifying, you would have to risk $900!  This group is essentially over.  Germany will be G1, and USA will be G2.  Write it in – save yourself some vacation time for the knockout stage.

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