Group G: Preview and predictions
It’s Jurgen against Jogi: U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann, the former manager of Germany, faces his old assistant and successor, Joachim "Jogi" Loew. What an emotional encounter that will be. Klinsmann led the U.S. to a thrilling 4-3 win over a second-string Germany in a June friendly. Now it’s for real. While that grabs the headlines, don’t let it escape your attention that Ghana and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal are also in this group. It promises to be tough and things could get steamy in Group G. No one wants to play in the Amazonian city of Manaus, but that’s just what the U.S. and Portugal will have to do in their second group game. It’ll get them and their fans hot under the collar.
Germany should have enough to top the group. A goal from Mesut Ozil helped them overcome Ghana in the 2010 group stage and one from Mario Gomez saw off Portugal at Euro 2012. Portugal finished behind Germany as runner-up in the Euro '12 group, edging Denmark and coming from behind to beat the Netherlands. That experience, you feel, will stand both the Germans and Portuguese in good stead. The U.S. seem more likely than Ghana to make things difficult.
Germany: They should have enough to top the group. A goal from Mesut Ozil helped them overcome Ghana in the 2010 group stage and one from Mario Gomez saw off Portugal at Euro 2012. Portugal finished as runners-up to Brazil in the 2010 group stage. That experience, you feel, will stand both the Germans and Portuguese in good stead. The U.S. seem more likely than Ghana to make things difficult.
Portugal: They have made a habit of making life difficult on themselves in qualifying -- often reaching major tournaments through playoffs -- and there’s a tendency to wonder where they’d be without Cristiano Ronaldo. Though dependent on him, they’re more than a one-man team and tend to perform better than expectation once they qualify. A robust back line and a skillful Joao Moutinho-orchestrated midfield, plus pace and trickery on the wings -- with the favourite for the 2013 Ballon d’Or on one of them or up front -- mean encounters with Portugal can get uncomfortable.
Ghana: The Ghanaian FA has set coach Kwesi Appiah a target of reaching the semifinals, but that seems unrealistic. No African nation has ever reached the last four of a World Cup, and while Ghana deserved to get that far in South Africa four years ago -- remember the Luis Suarez handball, the subsequent penalty miss and shootout despair -- it’s unlikely they’ll go as far. Their midfield -- comprising the unretired Kevin-Prince Boateng, Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien -- is a powerful one, and their attack has pace and skill in the Ayew brothers, Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan. However, one fears the back line won’t hold up to much scrutiny.
United States: They have come a long way since the last World Cup in Brazil in 1950, when they finished bottom of their group but famously shocked England 1-0. Qualifiers for every tournament from 1990 onward, they are an established World Cup nation now. Under Jurgen Klinsmann, their play has become more expansive; there’s greater depth, and mentally they seem prepared. Question marks remain, though: Has Klinsmann really transformed them? And how much can really be expected of a team that lost to Jamaica, Costa Rica and Honduras in recent memory, not to mention a near defeat to Panama?
Best individual battle: Mesut Ozil vs. Cristiano RonaldoThere’s a temptation to say the best individual battle will be between the Boateng brothers, Kevin-Prince (Ghana) against Jerome (Germany) -- an encounter that has already played out in the Bundesliga when Schalke met Bayern. However, it has to be Ozil against his former Real Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo. The German used to set up the Portuguese, whose disappointment at Ozil’s departure for Arsenal in the summer spoke of how much respect Ronaldo has for Ozil.
Best game: U.S. vs. Germany
Look no further than the final group game in Recife. If it’s anything as entertaining as the ding-dong friendly they played earlier this year, then we’re in for a treat. Klinsmann’s men will have learned a lot from that encounter, first and foremost just how much depth Germany have. Max Kruse and Julian Draxler were on the score sheet that day; they’re unlikely to start in Brazil. Good heavens.
X factor: Striker-less front-runners
Germany have experimented with a "false nine" throughout this year, mainly because Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose have been unavailable through injury and Loew still refuses to pick Stefan Kiessling. Not since Pauleta have Portugal produced an orthodox centre-forward. Will Ronaldo fill the void? We all know he’s more than capable of doing so.
Who will go through? Vote here