WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2013 — The U.S. national team finds itself faced with a brutal opening round at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after it was drawn with Germany, Portugal and Ghana at the World Cup Draw on Friday in Group G. It could not have been worse for the Americans who will have to travel 9,000 miles to compete in the three opening games, which includes a trip to the venue in Manaus, located in the Amazon jungle, and the one site at which no team wants to play.
“I think of our group, if you take a look at it, is probably one of the toughest ones - definitely top two or three groups in this draw,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer. “From a travelling point of view we have the furthest distance to travel with our team, but we’ll deal with it with a smile on our face and we’re going to attack.”
First up for the U.S. will be its opening game against Ghana in Natal on June 16. Ghana beat the U.S. in the opening round of the 2006 World Cup in Germany and knocked the Americans out of the round of 16 in South Africa in 2010. And Ghana reached next year’s finals beating Egypt, who were coached by the U.S. team’s 2010 World Cup coach, Bob Bradley.
Next for the Americans will be the trip to the muggy and hot Amazon rainforest region to play Portugal on June 22. Portugal is led by the brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world at the moment. Yes, the Americans did beat Portugal at the 2002 World Cup, but that was before Ronaldo appeared on the scene. Ronaldo recently scored a hat trick as Portugal downed Sweden in the playoffs to advance to the World Cup.
“You know everything about Cristiano Ronaldo but it doesn’t mean that you stop him, but we are going to try and stop him,” Klinsmann said. “It’s going to be huge for us.”
If those games were not hard enough, the Americans end the opening round against three-time world champion Germany on June 26 in Recife, Brazil. Germany, along with Brazil, Argentina and Spain, are the hot favorites to win the big prize.
The game against Germany pits U.S. team coach Klinsmann against his old team. As a player, Klinsmann won the World Cup with Germany at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and coached Germany to the third-place spot at the 2006 finals. If there is any silver lining to this game, it is Klinsmann’s knowledge of the German team and its style of play.
“With the background I have, it’s a special occasion and a special moment,” Klinsmann said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a football game and you try to give your best, and we’ll do that…I’m confident we can challenge all of those three teams and get our points to get into the next round.”
The U.S. did beat Germany in a friendly earlier this year at RFK Stadium in D.C., but it was against a German B team.
Clearly Germany, Portugal and Ghana will feel they have a chance to beat the U.S. That said, under Klinsmann, the Americans have had their best year ever and have a shrewd coach who knows well the international game. The U.S. team is fit and has a deeper pool of players than it has ever had.
And the team has a point to prove.
The Americans have unfinished business against the Germans, who beat them in 1998 and also 1-0 in the quarterfinals in 2002. In the 2002 match, the U.S. team dominated the first half and were unlucky to not have a goal called. Against Ghana, maybe it will be third time’s the charm for the red, white and blue. African teams have not fared well in the past finals.
Portugal does appear tough on paper, but the team struggled in qualifying posting unexpected ties with Israel and Northern Ireland.
So there is hope for the Americans.
John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times for 20 years. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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