World Cup: Group G preview
There are no easy games at the World Cup, and definitely not if you’re in Group G. The ping pong balls of the draw did not fall kindly for these teams who, with the exception of Portugal, all topped qualification in their confederations. All four teams would have been expecting to make at least the round of 16 before the draw, and will be fighting hard not to fail.
Can they be the first European team to win in the Americas? They’ve got a pretty good shot at it. Undefeated in qualifying, they’ve only had one defeat since Euro 2012 and are aiming to go one better than 2010 and reach the final.
The most impressive thing about the Germany squad is the balance. They are strong across the board and perhaps the exception to this rule is the striker, with Miroslav Klose the only recognisable name up front. But the goals from midfield can surely compensate - Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, Julian Draxler - the list goes on.
The worry with this kind of reliance on midfielders to get forward of course is the hole it leaves behind. There are quality holding midfielders available with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira the likely pairing, however both have had injury concerns in recent times.
Another factor may be the fixture list. Germany have been given all early kick offs, with two games starting at 1pm local time. The conditions will be a far cry from that of their homeland and fitness will be a factor.
But this is making mountains out of mole hill. They are the strongest European side in Brazil, even without Marco Reus, and are on the good side of the draw to avoid the hosts for a while. There are high expectations of this team, and rightly so.
The big fixture will be the first against Portugal. Although the national side doesn’t value possession as much as Bayern, they will be given a lot of the ball against their fellow European team, who will try and launch lightning counters when Germany commits forward. It will be a big test for the fullbacks, most likely the Dortmund pair of Großkreutz and Durm, who will have to be very disciplined and not leave their centre halves stranded.
This section did read Marco Reus until a few days ago who was injured in the final pre-tournament friendly. Luckily for the team however, there are players to pick up the slack. One could be Reus’s former foil Mario Gotze, who has continued his rise following his move to Munich.
One to watch
Schalke midfielder Julian Draxler has been the subject of much hype and transfer talk. The 20- year-old has been an important feature of the Schalke set up since 2011, operating all across the midfield, like many of his German teammates. His lack of goals may be his downfall, but if he can add that to his repertoire he will be unstoppable.
It’s been the cliché for years now, but it’s perhaps more valid now than ever – can Portugal win without current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo?
The Real Madrid superstar is currently best player in the world, and will have to continue that form if he is any hope of adding the World Cup to his impressive trophy cabinet. Beyond him, the Portuguese squad is aging and uninspiring.
As of this writing however, Ronaldo has not played since the Champions League final due to a knee injury, but you would imagine it would take his knee being removed for him to not feature prominently.
Portugal have few quality players - Real Madrid teammates Pepe and Fabio Coentrao being the two notable ones. To give an example of how thin this squad is, Nani has still been picked after a season riddled with injuries and not being good enough to play for a very ordinary Manchester United side.
All of them will be important given how unpredictable they might be, but the Germany game will be crucial. If they manage to execute their game plan it could be a successful afternoon, if not it could destroy their confidence and not leave them much time to get their head back. Their next match against the USA will also be key, if only for its location. The match will be at Arena Amazonia – you know, the one everyone says is a ridiculous place to play football.
…. Really? What did you expect to see here? Let’s just cast out mind back to how Portugal got here, remember that play off against Sweden? Zlatan v Cristiano. One of them got a hat trick in that last game, the other a measly brace. It’ll be a huge ask for him to drag his compatriots all the way, but if anyone can, it’s him.
One to watch
This was designed to be a ‘young up and comer’ section but looking at Portugal there just isn’t one. Which is pretty unnerving if you’re a Portugal supporter. A player to note if you haven’t already is Joao Moutinho. The midfielder made a big money move to Monaco last season and finished with eight assists and a goal to his name. When Ronaldo needs a perfect ball played, Moutinho will be the one pinging it.
It’s deep in stoppage time, one last free kick, a last ditch effort to reach the semi-final. The ball comes in, bounces around, finally a solid header towards goal – and the opposition star striker punches it away.
It’s sometimes forgotten amongst Luis Suarez’s numerous incidents, but that is perhaps the most vile. He was sent off, Ghana missed the penalty and went on to lose in the shoot-out. A bitter end to a tremendous campaign.
The Black Stars have only been to the last three World Cups, but have always gotten out of the group, and will fancy their chances again this year in a fairly even group. Results against Portugal and the USA will put them in a strong position to advance and are well within their capabilities.
The Ghanian midfield will be key, with Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari the pairing in the last two successful campaigns. However, they are a lot older than in 2006 when Ghana had the youngest squad, and perhaps Mohammed Rabiu will be able to give some youth and drive to the team.
Further forward they are well stocked with the explosive Kevin Price-Boateng and captain Asamoah Gyan, who will be looking to make amends for that penalty miss four years ago.
They must get their campaign off to a winning start against the US. Anything less than 3 points in that game will severely hurt their chances of getting through in such an even group. They should be slightly more suited to the conditions than their northern hemisphere opponents, which could swing in their favour.
In Australia we see the UAE Pro-League as a bit of a money pit with not much talent, and that is undoubtedly what convinced Asamoah Gyan to join Al Ain in 2012. But when you score 81 goals in 65 games, no matter what the league is, there is clear ability there. He will captain the side in his prime and will look to lead by example.
One to watch
Mohammed Badiu, as alluded to early, is the rejuvenation of the Ghana midfield and follows in the steps of those before him (and still in the squad) being a ferocious runner who is capable of breaking up play and distributing well.
Before the draw the US must have been feeling great. Top qualifier, 2-0 win over their arch rivals Mexico, a well put together squad by an experienced coach. But lady luck did not fancy a samba with Uncle Sam.
The United States will go into this group as underdogs, but that might suit them, and if they can manage a couple of tough results in the first few fixtures, perhaps Germany will rest players in the final game, and then who knows what could happen.
Seemingly permanent fixture Landon Donovan has been left out of the squad this World Cup after Jurgen Klinsmann did not look kindly on his ‘sabbatical’ at the start of qualifying. So the creativity up front is largely left to Clint Dempsey and other MLS players, who did manage the most goals in qualifying, but remain untested against world class defences.
There is something about the colonies making great goalkeepers, with two Premier League starters available to Klinsmann, but Tim Howard is the likely No.1, given his seniority and form with Everton.
However it’s the men in front of him which may be the biggest problem for the Yanks. Stoke City right back Geoff Cameron is the only recognisable name in a backline that will struggle to tame the likes of Ronaldo and Muller.
There are so many parallels to draw with the Socceroos it’s not funny, but these players have had a lot more time to gel and learn from Klinsmann. The one part of luck they got is the arrangement of the fixtures. Their first game against Ghana is crucial, even a point would put them in a good position.
With so many lacklustre names up front (read Jozy Altidore) the onus is really on Clint Dempsey to make and score the goals. The forward hasn’t ever been the most consistent player, but when he’s hot he can score some screamers from any part of the pitch.
One to watch
When Donovan was left out, one of the squad members people pointed to as possibly taking his place was 19-year-old Bayern Munich winger Julian Green. While it’s highly unlikely, Green looks to have all the features to take Donovan’s mantle as the United States most successful player. The prodigy has scored 15 goals in 23 appearances for Bayern Munich II, which doesn’t mean too much, but he is highly rated at the German giant. Expect to see him burst off the bench, and hopefully have an impact.
This is such a tough group to predict. Germany should be a certainty for the first spot, but second is so dependent on one man that it’s difficult to say anything with certainty. If he shows up, Ronaldo can drag them to the round of 16, if not, the Black Stars have a strong claim. It’s World Cup, and only three games, anything can happen.