Matches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup may start today, but the tournament really started all the way back in December.
That’s when the draw for the tournament was held, with names being drawn to determine which countries would play each other in the group stage. And as the United States learned, not all groups are created equal.
The Americans drew Group G, or as many pundits call it, the “Group of Death.” The US will face Germany, ranked No. 2 in FIFA’s world rankings, Portugal, who has the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana, the team that has eliminated the US in the last two World Cups.
This less-than-stellar draw brought the immediate thought that USA’s chances of making it past the first round were over. But I wouldn’t prepare for disappointment and national failure just yet.
The U.S. has the talent to compete and advance past the “Group of Death”. The only question is whether that talent can translate to execution.
Before I go further, let me point out that I couldn’t care less about Landon Donovan’s omission from the team. Sure, I was surprised by the decision, and I think he could’ve added some spark to the team, but he also took a four-month sabbatical in 2013 to get away from the team. And as anyone in the workplace knows, if you leave your job for a long period it may not be there when you come back.
The U.S. will have their easiest competition in their first game when they play Ghana. Like most countries in Africa, the Ghanaians have top players spread out across Europe and Asia playing in the top leagues. While that means they are playing good competition, it also means the players will have a tougher time coming together and learning other players’ tendencies.
Ghana’s defense has serious holes. It’s the job of players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to find the holes and break the game open. That and a containment of Ghana forwards Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng should leave the USA with a win.
The next match for the U.S. is Portugal, who have a solid all-around team but are led by the elite Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star scored 31 goals in 30 games in La Liga this season, and he may find success against a U.S. team filled with either old or inexperienced defenders.
But Ronaldo is recovering from a bout of tendonitis in his left knee, and Portugal striker Helder Postiga has struggled in international play. And with the game played in the sweltering city of Manaus, the U.S. could leave with a draw or win.
The final test is Germany. Ninety-five percent of the time I wouldn’t give the U.S. a chance against the Germans, but playing them in their final game of the group stage could be very beneficial. Germany may have already qualified for the knockout stage and may rest some of their starters for the match.
But to be honest, what U.S. fans should care about is not how their opponents in the “Group of Death” may struggle, but how the Americans can overachieve.
Bradley has shown flashes of being one of the world’s elite midfielders, and forward Jozy Altidore, despite being an immense disappointment with Sunderland this season, is still gifted athletically and can make some plays if he gets his act together.
And with players like Dempsey, goalkeeper Tim Howard and defenseman DaMarcus Beasley nearing the end of their careers, an escape from the “Group of Death” becomes more important.
The World Cup begins with the draw in December, but it doesn’t have to end with it.
Tommy Romanach is a 21-year-old mass communication senior from Dallas.