When the groups were drawn, many people labelled Group G as a potential “Group of Death” at World Cup 2014. And while Group G is certainly a fantastic group, those people were wrong. Group D has three genuine superpowers in world football, and Group G simply doesn’t have that.
But it does have two superpowers. It does have possibly the favourite for the entire tournament. It also has possibly the best player on the planet. No, it may not be the Group of Death, but Group G is certainly not to be dismissed.
The United States and Ghana are solid teams, while Germany and Portugal will lock horns yet again in the battle for supremacy. This group promises fireworks, and maybe the tournament’s best game, too.
Here are your Group G contenders:
Germany (Ranked 2nd in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Germany, quite simply, is a true footballing giant. The Germans are the third most successful (only behind Brazil and Italy) team in the World Cup, with three trophies to their name and plenty of occasions where they came pretty damn close.
But recently, “pretty damn close” is what they’ve had to settle for – in the last three World Cups, Germany has placed second once and third twice. In that same time period they’ve also been runners up at Euro 2008 and semifinalists most recently at Euro 2012. For 12 years, Germany has been incredibly close to winning World and Euro Cups; so close they can almost taste it.
And they’ve done so in swashbuckling fashion. Gone are the days when people referred to the Germans as methodical, efficient footballers. Now, Germany is a goldmine of incredibly skilled and exciting players. Forget Spain, forget Netherlands, hell, forget Brazil, there is no place on earth that is producing players like Germany is right now.
They’ve been on the brink of a golden generation for quite some time, and this one could be it. The correlation between the development of German players and the prominence of the Bundesliga on the world stage go hand in hand. Özil, Müller, Kroos, Reus, Hummels, Götze – Germany have a crop of brilliant, young players that is simply unrivalled. Add to that the experience of world-class veterans like Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and it is hard to look past the Germans as a tournament favourite.
Player to watch: With Marco Reus pulling out of the tournament in the last week, Germany have lost the man who would have been the key player in their offence. With him gone, they’ll need the entire front line to step their game up. But it will be the leadership of Phillip Lahm at the back which could make the difference. Germany has firepower in abundance, so if Lahm can help them keep things tight at the back, they could do some serious damage. Lahm is the best fullback on the planet, and his ability will bolster Germany’s World Cup chances.
Predicted group finish: First place. The Germans will be too much to handle for both Ghana and the United States. Portugal, however, could be a challenge. Germany, in recent history, does have the edge though – they’ve defeated the Portuguese on the last three occasions they’ve met. Regardless, the Germans will be coming through this group, and probably on top of it.
Predicted overall finish: Ready for it? Germany will win the whole tournament. There, I said it. The Germans have been so close for far too long now, and it is their time to win the whole thing. They have a fantastic manager, and even better players. Spain’s dominance of international football can’t last forever, and although Brazil are also a likely contender, Germany stand out as the team who could claim the eventual prize. They’ll be in the semifinals, and probably the final, and probably on the podium holding the trophy. It’s time for an era of German dominance.
Portugal (Ranked 4th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Portugal just don’t know how to do it the easy way. For two consecutive World Cups (and the Euro Cup sandwiched in the middle) Portugal have failed to top a qualifying group that they’ve been clear favourites in. Fortunately for the Portuguese, they seem to be good with their backs against the wall – despite being forced into three playoff rounds since 2010, they always find a way through.
Further yet, they’re actually damn good when the tournaments actually kick off. Impressive showings in World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 were only ended by eventual winners Spain. But in Portugal, Spain found their toughest match in both tournaments. They may do it the hardest way possible, but the Selecção always ups their game when the world is watching.
Manager Paulo Bento is a man of few words, and even fewer changes – Bento’s call-ups, line-ups and style of play rarely fluctuate. Perhaps that could be a bad thing, but Bento has, at the bare minimum, provided stability to a national team that was in turmoil before he took over. The Portuguese play a fantastic brand of football, are surprisingly hard to break down, and are ruthless on the counter attack.
Portugal has some fitness concerns coming into this tournament, namely Ronaldo and Pepe, but if everybody is fit and healthy by this time next week, the Portuguese will be a dark horse at this World Cup. Nobody is expecting anything from the nation who have never won an international trophy – and that is exactly what Portugal want. A surprise could be on the way.
Player to watch: Slowly, Cristiano Ronaldo has won over the Portuguese public and proved his doubters wrong – he can do it on the international stage. Ronaldo, for much of his early Portuguese career, was under so much pressure that no matter what he did, it was never good enough. But with CR7 having finally quashed his international woes and currently in the best form of his entire life, this could be the year that he engraves his mark on Portuguese history. Fitness permitting, he could be the tournament’s shining star.
Predicted group finish: Second place. Much has been made of the difficulty of this group, but for Portugal, it is the perfect test. Germany are probably a step too far for Portugal to play this early in the tournament, but the USA and Ghana will be shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Ronaldo. Barring a disaster, Portugal will advance from this group.
Predicted overall finish: There are a few teams in this tournament that could become better with each round that passes, and Portugal are certainly one of them. The Selecção, bolstered by the world’s best player (this year, at least), will gain momentum with each win. If Ronaldo gets into form early in this tournament, the sky is the limit for the Portuguese. A quarter-final place is probable, but going further is a definite possibility. The pressure is off, but a dream finish could be very much on for Portugal.
Ghana (Ranked 37th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
By midway through World Cup 2010 (hosted in South Africa) the Ghanaians were the only African team left; having made it all the way to the quarter-finals, their game against Uruguay was winding down towards extra time, and Ghana had the hopes and dreams of an entire continent on their back.
What happened next will never be forgotten by “the Black Stars”, as Uruguayan Luis Suarez blatantly and intentionally handled the ball on his own goal line, denying a clear goal and getting sent off in the process. Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty, and his country went on to lose to Uruguay in a penalty shootout.
That incident may not have been forgotten, but for most people it will have been pushed to the back of their mind. For Ghana, it’ll be quite different – that incident will have replayed in the heads of the Ghanaian players a thousand times already this summer. They will want redemption.
But they can obsess all they like, for it won’t change the fact that Group G will be too much for them to handle. Last World Cup they were a surprise package, and bolstered by playing on their home continent, they were able to put together a miraculous run to the quarter-finals. A repeat doesn’t look likely, and they’ll need to wait another four years – at least – before they can make amends.
Player to watch: In 2010, it was Asamoah Gyan who propelled Ghana through the tournament, but his career has since seen him end up in the United Arab Emirates, so it will be down to Marseille winger André Ayew to carry his nation’s torch this time. Ayew, deployed from the left flank, is fast, tricky and has goals in his locker. He, along with younger brother Jordan, will be hard for opposition defenders to contain.
Predicted group finish: Third or fourth. Ghana’s desire for redemption won’t be sated this summer. They have a decent squad, but they’ll need more than their fair share of luck to get anything out of Portugal or Germany.
USA (Ranked 13th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
The United States men’s national soccer team (USMNT) have become a very familiar site at the World Cup. The Americans will be representing their country for the seventh consecutive tournament in a row – a mighty feat for a country that doesn’t consider themselves as a footballing nation.
But the truth is that (don’t tell fans of other sports) they could be slowly becoming one. Soccer has been growing at a breakneck pace in North America, and the United States in particular has begun to tap into the potential of the beautiful game.
With the MLS constantly increasing in quality, American players are getting more chances to make a career out of the game that they love, and manager Jürgen Klinsmann is reaping the rewards of that. The final 23-man squad has an interesting blend of domestic and foreign-based players, but unlike most of the other “small” football nations, the USA’s best players are those who are still playing back home.
All-time leading goalscorer Landon Donovan was controversially cut from the squad, but Klinsmann has still brought many well-known names including Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley.
Player to watch: After a recent transfer back to North America, Michael Bradley has gained a lot of plaudits for his ability. When watching the box-to-box midfielder, it is evident that his career has included time spent at clubs across Europe – Bradley is cultured, bringing the American dynamism, but also a European calmness to his midfield game. He’ll want to show that his move back home (well, to Toronto) wasn’t running away, but rather preparing him to go head to head with some of Europe’s big boys.
Predicted group finish: Like Ghana, the USA has a very decent, rounded squad. But decent just simply doesn’t cut it when you’re playing against elite players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Mesut Özil. They’ll huff and puff, but there’s a reason that only American pundits fancy them to do anything this summer. Elimination from the group stages beckons for the Klinsmann’s men.