When the World Cup draw was announced, fans of the USMNT released a collective groan, having been placed in what has been considered to be the most difficult group in the World Cup. Placed among Germany, Portugal and Ghana, few fans and even fewer pundits gave the Americans a chance to advance to the knockout round. As the group finally kicks off, a few questions remain: Is this truly the "Group of Death"? Are we overestimating our competition?
The United States’ first opponent in Group G will be our old foe Ghana, the team that has booted us from the past two World Cups. The USMNT’s results against the Black Stars in 2006 and 2010 have led many to be skeptical of our chances against the African nation. The team has its share of world-class players, boasting European stars like Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah. But after a strong showing in qualifying, the team had mixed results in their warm-up games, losing to the Netherlands before crushing South Korea.
This is not the same USMNT that was twice eliminated by the Black Stars, either. Many of the players who were on the United States’ 2010 World Cup squad have improved since the teams last met. Michael Bradley has become a world class midfield presence, while Jozy Altidore has grown as a player on the club and international level. The United States’ change in philosophy under Jürgen Klinsmann, an improved roster and fine run of form leave the USMNT in a good position to secure a win.
Portugal is arguably one of the most overrated teams in the tournament. They struggled to qualify for the World Cup, needing a playoff game where they narrowly defeated Sweden thanks to a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo. The result against Sweden only reinforced the belief that Portugal is a one-man show, relying heavily on the Ballon d’Or winner just to qualify for the tournament. While the team features quality players like Nani, Fábio Coentrão, Pepe and João Moutinho, the team often goes as Ronaldo goes. Additionally, Ronaldo has been struggling with injury, recently claiming he's 100 percent while admitting he's constantly playing through pain. Ronaldo is also reportedly dealing with tendinitis in his knee, leading to further concerns about the player’s fitness. That being said, Ronaldo at 75% is still one of the best players in the world. But if the United States can slow him down, they stand a good chance of defeating Portugal and securing their second win of the group stage.
No one is overestimating Germany and I’m certainly not going to begin now. The three-time World Cup champions are looking very good going into Brazil despite Marco Reus, Marcel Schmelzer and İlkay Gündoğan missing the World Cup due to injuries. The Germans have frightening skill and depth in the midfield and one of, if not the best goalkeepers in Manuel Neuer. Yes, the United States did defeat Germany in a friendly last summer, but that game saw many of Germany’s starters subbed off shortly after the second half began. The best chance the Americans stand against Joachim Low’s men is for them to trot out a lesser squad, having potentially won their first two games.
The United States are no doubt in a very difficult group, but one that may be a bit overrated. FIFA World Rankings are not a good lens to judge this group through, especially since Portugal now sits at No. 3 despite nearly missing the tournament altogether. Barring a massive upset, Germany will win the group. But the battle for the second spot in the group is more wide open than previously thought and the United States are in a good position to secure that spot in the knockout round.