Sunday, December 8, 2013

U.S. Drawn Into Toughest Group of 2014 World Cup

"Really, it couldn’t have been more difficult. The Americans open the tournament against Ghana, who eliminated the U.S. in the last two World Cups, and then face two of Europe’s best teams in Portugal (in the Amazon rainforest) and Germany (who the U.S. lost to in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups)."
USA Today:
The United States will play Ghana, Portugal and Germany in a tough first-round group at next year's World Cup that will take the Americans on a lengthy 9,000-mile trip around Brazil.

Making their seventh straight appearance at soccer's showcase, the Americans were drawn Friday into Group G and will open on June 16 in Natal against Ghana, which eliminated the Americans at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.

The U.S. meets Portugal and 2008 FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo six days later in the Amazon rain forest city Manaus. The Americans have just three off days to recover before closing group play on June 26 in Recife against Germany.

Germany were ranked No. 2 in the world in FIFA's most recent rankings in November, while Portugal came in at No. 5. The U.S. are ranked No. 14, and Ghana sit at No. 24. If the U.S. reaches the round of 16, it would face Belgium, Russia, Algeria or South Korea from Group H.

“Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw," U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN. "Having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the U.S., it couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger. But that’s what a World Cup is about. It’s a real challenge, and we’ll take it.”

The Americans will train in the U.S. from mid-May on and plan a series of exhibition games, which likely will include England as an opponent, before heading to Brazil.

After having the shortest group-play travel in South Africa, the U.S. will have the longest in Brazil. The Americans will be based in Sao Paulo and face trips of 1,436 miles to Natal, 1,832 miles to Manaus and 1,321 miles to Recife.

The draw was a surprisingly familiar one for the Americans, who will take on Ghana for the third consecutive World Cup. The Black Stars defeated and eliminated the U.S. during the group stage in 2006 in Germany and then posted a 2-1 win over the Americans in the Round of 16 in 2010 in South Africa.

"I think the memory will still be very fresh of the loss in the Round of 16 in 2010," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told"I think that will help us more than it will them. We're a much stronger team than we were, and they'll know that going into the game. We'll look to set that result right."

The U.S. has a World Cup past with Portugal as well, going back to 2002 when the U.S. got out to a 3-0 lead before a final 3-2 victory over the heavily favored Portuguese side in group play.

But the U.S. squad is its weakest at outside back, and U.S. fans cannot be savoring the prospect of Brad Evans or DaMarcus Beasley having to match up one-on-one against Ronaldo on the wing.

The other nightmare scenario of the game against the Portuguese is that it is in Manaus, far from the rest of the World Cup venues and in the middle of the Amazon jungle.

Germany enter as bona fide contenders to win their first World Cup since they won as West Germany in 1990, with Klinsmann scoring three goals in the tournament. They lost the final to Brazil in 2002, then reached the semifinals in 2006 and 2010.

They are led by Klinsmann's former Die Mannschaft assistant and protégé Joachim Low, who many argue was the real genius behind Germany’s third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup under Klinsmann.

In the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. made its most successful run since 1930, making it to the quarterfinals before bowing out to the Germans. In that quarterfinal matchup, the U.S. dominated long stretches of play and even outshot the Germans 11-6. However, a string of saves by German keeper Oliver Kahn and a handball by German defender Torsten Frings on the goalline kept the U.S. out of the net and the Germans won the match 1-0.

This summer, the U.S. and the Germany played again, with the U.S. coming out on top 4-3. The win started a 12-game winning streak for the U.S. that culminated with a Gold Cup championship and a win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Europe.

ESPN put the U.S.’ chance of advancement out of the group at 39.3%, which might seem exceedingly optimistic considering the challenges the U.S. will face. However, the U.S. has proven repeatedly in the recent past that it tends to take an odd enjoyment out of the challenge of playing world powerhouses, especially in the World Cup.

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