United States Draws “Group of Death” for 2014 World Cup
By Dan Lagnado
Over the last three years, soccer clubs around the world have been going through a series of World Cup qualifying matches. Yesterday, the 32 teams that qualified learned their group for the first round of play, the group stage. The United States National Team cruised through qualifiers with a record of 7-2-1 and easily garnered the points and placement needed to go to Brazil. However, the yesterday’s news indicates that their stay could be short-lived. The US has been placed in what is known as “the group of death”. Every World Cup features this group. Typically it is characterized by having three or four of the best teams in the world. As a result of the organization of the tournament only two teams will move on to the knockout stage from each group. And so, therefore, one of the best teams will be bumped from the tournament in the first round.
This year’s group of death is Group G. This group contains the United States, Ghana, Germany, and Portugal. All four of these teams are rated to be in the top 25 teams in the world and three of them are in the top 15 (Ghana is ranked 24). These matchups could provide serious issues for the US.
Germany is considered one of the best teams in the world (ranked 2nd overall) and is the favorite to win the group. They are led by star midfielder Mesut Ozil, who just recently was transferred to Arsenal for a club record transfer fee of £42.2 million. He is known to have fantastic footskills as well as vision and a powerful shot. Though Germany also has star players such as Mario Gotze, and Miroslav Klose, Ozil is considered to be Germany’s version of Ronaldo or Messi.
And Ozil will have to be because his first matchup will be against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, the player many people say he emulates. Portugal is ranked as the fifth best team in the world and is favored to be the runner-up of the group just barely over the US. Of course Ronaldo is the leader of this squad, and is the second best, if not the best, player in the world. He won 2008 FIFA player of the year and has the speed and footwork to take on defenders, provides crosses for his teammates and can deliver some of the best free kicks in the world. However, many of the other star players are aging stars such as Bruno Alves and so if Ronaldo can be limited other teams can pull an upset.
Hoping to pull this upset is the United States. A team that has had mixed results in their history at the World Cup, hopes to shock the world in their first appearance with Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm. This club is led by several solid players at every level, though none considered to be the best in the world. Tim Howard is the anchor of the defense, has been the US keeper for years and has been able to perform at a high level even at age 34. Clint Dempsey is the captain of the squad and provides a spark from an attacking midfield position. Jozy Altidore has performed well lately as he has four goals in five international appearances since the qualifiers though he has been unable to transfer his skill into World Cup success. The most recognizable face of this squad however is Landon Donovan. Best known for his last minute goal against Algeria in 2010 that clinched a second round appearance, Donovan has the shown the ability to perform on the international stage and put the ball in the back of the net.
Ghana has been the thorn in the side of the American national team for 8 years. Despite being the underdog in the group of death (once again 25th ranked in the world and given the worst chances of advancing) Ghana is not a squad to be taken lightly. They have eliminated the United States in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. This squad is led by Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Essien was nominated for the 2006 Player of the Year award and has a powerful shot as well as the power to work through opposing defenders. Ghana also has a new manager in Kwesi Appiah who took over in 2012. He hopes to help his team compete against the other three powers in this group.
Other Notable World Cup Drawings
Host country Brazil is in Group A along with a slumping Mexico, Croatia and the Samuel Eto’o led Cameroon and is the most favored country to move on given a 99.6% chance of advancing to the knockout stage. Mexico, despite its disappointing qualifying tournament, is the favorite to come in second in the group and also advance. Eto’o has led Cameroon to some World Cup successes though the odds are stacked against him this year. Luka Modric and Croatia look to take advantage of Mexico’s recent slump and sneak into the second round.
Group B features reigning World Camp champion Spain as well as Chile, the Netherlands and Australia. Spain seems to be in a good position to move on and attempt to repeat as champs. The Netherlands will get a chance at revenge for their loss in the 2010 final against Spain and Robin van Persie will attempt to lead his team to a revenge victory. Chile came in third place in South American qualifiers and behind the ability of Arturo Vidal, has a decent chance of advancing. Australia unfortunately seems to be the underdog of the tournament and is given a 98% chance of being eliminated. Australia was the last team to qualify from a week conference and so have fairly low expectations. However don’t tell that to Tim Cahill as he will keep spirits up and maybe try to play spoiler for another team in this group.
In Group C we will see Colombia, Greece, Japan and the Ivory Coast. Colombia finished only behind Argentina in qualifiers. Striker Radamel Falcao is a prolific scorer as he now holds the Europa League scoring record and is the main weapon of a strong Colombian squad. Greece was tied for first in their qualifying tournament and is hoping Kostas Mitroglou can lead them past Ivory Coast and into the knockout stage. Ivory Coast boasts the talents of Didier Drogba as well as Yaya Toure. This squad is favored to be the runner-up and has the talent to cause some teams trouble. The Japanese squad hopes to build on the victory by their women’s team in 2012. However, Shinji Kagawa will face some heavy lifting if he hopes to advance his mates into the second round.
If Group G is the group of death, Group D is the group of death junior. Made up of historical soccer powerhouses Uruguay, England, Italy as well as Costa Rica. Uruguay emerged in 2010 as a team to be reckoned with as they ousted Ghana in the WC quarterfinals. Luis Suarez, despite his occasional negative public appearance (he bit an opponent in 2010) is one of the best strikers in the world and is capable of making things happen with the ball at his feet. Costa Rica finished behind only the US in qualifying as they turned in an impressive tournament. Captain Bryan Ruiz has his team ready to make a run for the second round and has them believing that they can get past more storied European squads England and Italy. England, earned their place in Brazil with an undefeated qualifying round. England has been known as a powerful soccer team for years now. Forward Wayne Rooney and Keeper Joe Hart hope their cautious optimism enables them to channel their best play and help them advance. Italy were the champions of the 2006 World Cup. However much has changed since then. 2010 was very disappointing for this squad and they feel that a bounce back tournament is in the cards. Andrea Pirlo provides veteran leadership and “Super” Mario Balotelli hopes to provide offensive fireworks.
Group E contains Ecuador, Switzerland, France and Honduras. Switzerland does have the weapons to be powerful team in this tournament and in a weaker group it is possible this team can squeak into the next round on the feet of Xherdan Shaqiri. Ecuador finished tied with Uruguay in qualifiers indicating that they have the ability to win a few games and get to the second round. Antonio Valencia and Cristian Benitez provide leadership and offensive ability for a dangerous squad. France is coming back from a disappointing 2010. Look for them to live up to their potential this time around and take control of their group. Patrice Evra, Frank Ribery and Karim Benzema provide both skill and leadership at all three levels of the formation. Honduras finished behind the US and Costa Rico in qualifiers but that does not mean that they are not capable of making things happen in this group. Emilio Izaguirre hopes to lead his team to a surprising finish in this somewhat not as strong group.
There may only be one reason to watch Group F. This group is made up of Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia & Herezgovina and Iran. But the reason to pay attention to what goes on here goes by the name of Lionel Messi. Argentina boasts the best player in the world (as well as pretty good odds to handily win this group). Of course the team has many more weapons such as Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, but Messi is certainly the face and name that everyone recognizes. The four-time Player of the Year Award winner and owner of the record for most goals in a calendar year should lead his squad easily into the second round. The battle in this group will be for second-place. The SPI gives the edge to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Edin Dzeko. Despite tying Greece for the top spot in their qualifying division, B-H had an absurd goal differential of +24. This shows their ability both offensively and defensively. The Iranian squad is led by veteran midfielder Javad Nekounam, who hopes to lead a few upset victories. Meanwhile the Nigerian squad is led by Victor Moses and are in a similar situation as Iran, many doubters but a chance to surprise people.
Finally there is Group H containing Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea. Belgium also had an undefeated qualifying tournament and look to continue that success led by Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard and are given a strong chance to advance. Kompany is a defensive back who has shown the ability to score the occasional goal as well as provide veteran knowledge. Algeria seems to be the significant underdog of the group. Madjid Bougherra hopes to change these opinions and get a few wins. Russia has the ability to challenge Belgium for the top spot of the group. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has emerged as one of the best in the world and Alexander Kerzhakov has emerged as an impressive offensive present. South Korea hopes to make waves in the soccer world. A new coach and a hot young striker in Son Heung-min, hope to pull an upset or two and surprise everyone.
In 187 days, the world will be glued to their TV sets to see how everything shapes up. The first US game is on June 16, 2014 against Ghana.
*All predictions and odds are provided by the Soccer Power Index (SPI)
Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995