Group G will immediately catch the eye for the match-up between two giants of European football in Germany and Portugal. The draw has churned out a repeat of the opening game of Group B in the 2012 European Championship, where an unadventurous Portugal were defeated 1-0 by Germany in a dull affair that failed to live up to expectations. We all hope that this time around the game follows the highly exciting, attacking nature of the World Cup so far – but either way, there is an equally intriguing narrative that will start later tonight, as Nathan Fogg reports.
Ghana and America are two countries representing entirely different cultures and footballing heritages, yet both arrive at the 2014 World Cup in similar positions. Ghana had the support of an entire continent 4 years ago as the only African country left, until they were cruelly knocked out in their Quarter Final encounter against Uruguay thanks to a Luis Suarez handball and 3 missed penalties – one being Asamoah Gyan’s which could only skim past the crossbar in the last kick of the game. Just as Ghana’s campaign now bears the hope of the African continent, the US represents perhaps the best chance for a CONCACAF region starved of genuine talent to make an impact
The United States’ journey is an interesting one: coached by former World Cup winner with Germany Jurgen Klinsmann, the US team will kick off a World Cup campaign without all-time top goalscorer Landon Donavon for the first time since 1998. After a disappointing start to his 2014 MLS season with L.A Galaxy and repeated poor performances for the national team, Klinsmann made the incredibly brave, yet controversial, decision to drop the star of a country desperate for a talisman in order to captivate public interest. It represents a significant turning point for the US team, who will continue to progress by adopting the ideas of their Head Coach, but with this move Klinsmann has already divided supporters – and whether their World Cup is a success of failure, it will ultimately be a decision Klinsmann will be heavily judged on. America already has much of what it will take to eventually be a force on the international scene: a huge population, masses of money, great facilities and an already established youth system. Add to this the growing importance of the MLS and the slowly increasing popularity of soccer in a sport-mad country, America’s best days are still ahead of them.
Realistically, this US team will hold more hope of being able to properly ‘arrive’ on the World scene in 2018, Klinsmann seems to be using this World Cup as an opportunity to blood in some very talented but inexperienced youngsters such as Julian Green and Aron Johansson – both who will be vital for the future direction of the national team. No doubt many in an increasingly soccer-hungry country will be desperate for success right now, rather than simply be happy with the prospect of being able to field a genuinely strong team either 4 or 8 years into the future, however the strength of Group G may prove too much for USA to progress to the next round.
Ghana on the other hand may feel that they have a more immediate chance of success. With players such as Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jordan Ayew and Kevin Asamoah, Ghana come in as favourites for this match – they will also take confidence from their performance 4 years ago in knocking out USA in the second round. Striker Asamoah Gyan will no doubt play a pivotal role in any hopes Ghana have of progressing past the ‘Group of Death’, and remains perhaps the forgotten man for many Premier League fans after his 1 reasonable season at Sunderland. Gyan has in fact racked up 99 goals in 91 appearances since then, an enviable record. It may be in the United Arab Emirates, clearly a gulf in quality below the Premier League – but Gyan’s incredible record has translated into goals for his national side, scoring 11 in 15 last year for Ghana. Most of those came in the qualifying stages, where Ghana topped their group – getting to the CAF playoffs ahead of the 2012 African Cup of Nations champions Zambia, going on to emphatically beat the 2010 champions Egypt 7-3 over two legs.
Tactically the match should prove an entertaining and intriguing match-up. Under Klinsmann the American team play a high line of defence, and with DeMarcus Beasley expected to start at left-back, this will likely come in the form of the full backs pushing further up the pitch. What will be interesting to see is whether Klinsmann sticks with his usual formation with two protecting defensive midfielders, or with just one sitting back in the diamond formation that the US team has experimented with in the build-up. Expect Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to patrol the centre of the pitch, both will be hugely important in not only compensating for the attacking playmakers, but also in the quick transitions from defence to the forward areas.
The biggest issue for the US will be their lack of fire-power. Jozy Altidore will lead the line despite enduring a torrid season at Sunderland with just 1 Premier League goal to his name. Ghana should have no such problems, strongly favoured as the strongest African team in the tournament this year, they scored an average of over 3 goals per game in qualifying, and will again look to utilise speed in attack with a familiar 4-2-3-1. The conditions may play their part, overwhelming heat is not expected, but the Natal region has seen more rainfall this weekend than it usually does for the entire month of June and much may depend on how the pitch copes as a result. Both these teams will likely contribute to another fast-paced end-to-end game however that should continue a highly exciting World Cup so far.
After Ghana eliminated the US 4 years ago, this match could prove equally as important. A loss for either team effectively knocks them out, a draw may do little to help either. Most will see this as the battle for 3rd place, but this game could truly be a fight for qualification to the second round. If Portugal continue to underperform at the major tournaments, something we may know a little bit more about after their opener against Germany directly before this match, there is no reason the 2nd spot in the group could not be up for grabs. It’s possible that no other opening match has so much at stake, only the winner has a realistic chance of progressing. It seems a shame that both of these teams may face exit in the first round, but both will play an important part in what is by far the strongest group of the tournament. But rather than simply making up the numbers, both of these teams have a genuine chance of providing one of the big shocks of the tournament in making it to round 2. Their campaigns, and therefore this game, may prove an important part in the history of these two developing teams.