John Foster provides the lowdown on Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA...
The Germans’ biggest obstacle might be the Germans themselves, in the form of Ghana’s German star Kevin-Prince Boateng, and German Julian Green of the United States. Portugal will be desperate for Cristiano Ronaldo to reproduce his club form, while Cristiano Ronaldo will be desperate to reproduce.
World Cup pedigree
Germany reached the semis in the last two World Cups, and the final in 2002, making this the most unsuccessful period in their history. Portugal have never lifted the trophy, despite a bold attempt by nationalist politicians in the 1970s to claim Brazil’s World Cup wins as theirs. Ghana were denied victory in the quarter-finals by a Luis Suarez handball four years ago, an incident that tarnishes Suarez’s otherwise angelic reputation. The USA reached the last four of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, an achievement only slightly diminished by the fact that only four teams entered.
Road to Brazil
Germany breezed through qualifying, finishing a whole eight points clear of second-placed Sweden. Portugal qualified via a play-off, also against Sweden, as did Ghana, who defeated the Scandinavians 7-3 on aggregate. The United States took up their place by finishing ahead of Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the exhausted Sweden, who will be re-examining their qualifying strategy in the future.
Bastian Schweinsteiger will run the show for Germany, assuming he can stop himself from collapsing into fits of giggles at being linked with Manchester United. The USA’s midfield general Michael Bradley was dubbed 'General Michael Bradley' by Roma fans, proving once again that Italian nicknames have really gone downhill since the days of the Divine Ponytail and the White Feather. Ghana’s Boateng can be relied upon to cover every blade of grass on the pitch, even if he has to ignore the game taking place around him to do so. Win or lose, expect Portugal’s Ronaldo to end the game topless.
Germany’s politically contentious ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ is no longer sung on official occasions, having been replaced with the less controversial ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über Frankreich’, or ‘Germany is better than France’. Of their rivals, the USA will hope to be the first team to end ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in the same key in which they began it, while Portugal’s stirring 'A Portuguesa', meaning ‘a Portuguese woman’, originated in 1890 as a dirty joke involving a British sailor losing his pants in a bet. Listen out too for the anthem of Ghana’s Black Stars, which is Radiohead’s ‘Black Star’.