World Cup Profiles - Group G

Group G

Over the last few years, Germany have tried, without success, to end Spain’s dominance on the international stage. There is no doubt that Joachim Low’s team remains one of the most riveting sides to watch in international soccer, but have fallen just short in recent years. In 2008, they lost the European Championship final 1-0 to Spain, who also edged them out of the 2010 World Cup semi-finals. Two years ago in Poland and the Ukraine, Germany were playing some irresistible soccer until coming up short against Italy in the semi-finals. Is it becoming a mental thing? Those questions will be asked if Germany again fail to win their first major trophy since 1996.
Low has at his disposal an ultra-talented squad with the perfect blend of youth and experience. Philipp Lahm has arguably been among the world’s top ten players for the best part of a decade now, while Miroslav Klose has every chance of beating Brazilian international Ronaldo’s record of 14 goals scored at World Cup finals. Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil are hardly veterans but boast over 200 caps between them. Then there is the supremely talented collection of young players that Germany seems to be able to produce at will. The likes of Mario Gotze, Julian Draxler and Marco Reus ensure that Germany will not lack creativity over the next decade.
Despite the strong recent record, comfortable qualification – Germany won nine out of 10 qualifiers, drew one and scored 36 goals -and almost unrivalled squad depth, many Germans are pessimistic about their chances in Brazil. There was much frustration over the narrow March friendly win against Chile in Stuttgart. Low’s side won 1-0, but could have suffered a heavy defeat against their slick visitors who undoubtedly shocked Germany with their hard running and high pressing. There are worries over the defence, although Arsenal center-back Per Mertesacker believes there will be no issues with the backline. Mertesacker’s Arsenal teammate Mesut Ozil is also coming off a tough debut season at the Emirates Stadium. He has not looked like the player who galvanized Germany at the 2010 World Cup and who has come to symbolise the national team’s transformation in style. So there are concerns for Germany – incredibly high expectations not the least of them – but Low’s side nonetheless enter the tournament as one of the three favourites to lift their fourth World Cup.

How they qualified
Germany topped Group C with an unbeaten record, sealing automatic qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup with nine victories from ten fixtures. Furthermore, coach Joachim Low’s charges hit 36 goals along the way, the most of any side in European zone qualifying. The three-time world champions’ eye-catching attacking displays have thrilled their fans and demonstrated why they are among the favourites to take the title in Brazil. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. The 4-4 draw with Sweden in Berlin is a painful memory, especially after Germany had a 4-0 lead.

World Cup history
Germany lie third in the all-time world football ranking with three FIFA World Cup triumphs, behind only Brazil on five and Italy on four. The 1954 team won the tournament in Switzerland as rank outsiders, in what became known as the Miracle of Berne. Franz Beckenbauer lifted the trophy on home soil in 1974, and Lothar Matthaus followed suit at Italy 1990.The Germans have also finished runners-up four times, in 1966, 1982, 1986 and 2002, and came third on four occasions, in 1934 and 1970, and at the last two finals in 2006 and 2010. No other team has played more matches (99) or scored more goals (222) at the FIFA World Cup finals.

Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover)
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Erik Durm, Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Hoewedes (Schalke 04), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Julian Draxler (Schalke 04), Matthias Ginter (Freiburg), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Christoph Kramer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea)

Key players
Keeper Manuel Neuer is the undisputed No1, while many experts believe he is the real deal, equipped not only to follow in the footsteps of Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann, but also to develop into one of the best in the world. Full-back Philipp Lahm and schemer Bastian Schweinsteiger earned their international spurs long ago: each has reached 100 caps and still at their peak.
The next generation appears immensely promising too. Former Real Madrid starlet Mesut Ozil, who now laces his boots at Arsenal was just 21 when he thrilled the crowds at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and is a gifted creative player with passing ability to match the best in the world. Up front, Thomas Muller won the Adidas Golden Boot and was named Best Young Player at the 2010 finals, while youngsters Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze keep getting better and better.

The Coach: Joachim Low
The 54-year-old can take much of the credit for the way Germany have altered their image in recent years. He has been in the job since 2006, guiding Germany to one major final and two semi-finals. Critics point to an overly cautious approach in the big games, but Low has the chance to put down a marker in the first game against Portugal by showing that he is willing to attack the other heavyweights.

Prediction: 3rd
Germany have not landed a particularly easy group but they should nonetheless qualify in first place and set up a second-round meeting with Russia. A quarter-final with France could await, and then a semi-final against the hosts Brazil. Germany have been knocking on the door at major tournaments under Low for several years but are tipped to fall short again with their lack of striking options.

Quick Facts:
Fifa Ranking: 2nd
Best World Cup Result: Winners (1954, 1974 and 1990)
Best European Championship Result: Winners (1972, 1980 and 1996)
Record Scorer: Gerd Muller and Miroslav Klose (68 goals)
Most Capped Player: Lothar Matthaus (150 caps between 1980 and 2000)
Captain: Philipp Lahm

Group Matches:
Monday June 16 2014 v Portugal (Salvador)
Saturday June 21 2014 v Ghana (Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza)
Thursday June 26 2014 v USA (Recife)

Portugal made more than they should have out of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and have Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for their participation in Brazil. The world player of the year scored all four goals across the two-legged play-off against Sweden, including a stunning hat-trick in the away leg in Stockholm.

Paulo Bento’s side found themselves in that play-off after a defeat to Russia and draws against Northern Ireland and Israel (twice) in qualifying. Portugal have a long history of struggling against lesser opponents and they lived up to their reputation in Group F. All eyes will naturally be on Ronaldo in Brazil. Can the Real Madrid ace propel Portugal to World Cup glory in a similarly single-handed fashion as Diego Maradona did for Argentina in 1986? The odds are against it given that Portugal lack the strength-in-depth of the tournament favourites. A side with little physicality, and one lacking in competition, with several players seemingly assured of their places in the starting line-up, no matter how they play. The likes of Nani, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles look likely to start in Brazil, given the lack of alternative options available to Bento. Another concern for Bento will be in attack, where he still relies on the veteran Helder Postiga. He and reserve striker Hugo Almeida will scare few defences, leaving Portugal undoubtedly lacking the world class strikers of their competitors.

How they qualified
For the second time in succession Portugal had to go through the play-offs in order to advance to the world finals. Reprising their aggregate defeat of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the road to South Africa 2010, the Portuguese saw off Sweden 4-2 over two legs to book their place at Brazil 2014. They began their bid to reach their sixth FIFA World Cup as the favourites to win Group F, having made the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2012, where they lost on penalties to Spain. And though they held their own against Russia, losing in Moscow but winning the return fixture in Lisbon, the Portuguese had to settle for second place in the section after surprise draws at home to Northern Ireland and home and away to Israel. That left them with no option but to take the play-off route again, but in a duel that pitted together two of the world’s best players, Ronaldo got the better of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the scorer of his side’s two goals, to guide the Portuguese safely to Brazil.

World Cup history
It was not until England 1966 that the Portuguese made their world finals debut, yet as entrances go it could hardly have been more impressive. Spearheaded by the irrepressible Eusebio, Portugal’s golden generation knocked out Brazil en route to the semi-finals, where they came up just short against the host nation. Consolation came in the shape of victory over the Soviet Union in the match for third place. The Portuguese do not have happy memories of their next appearance on the big stage, however, which came at Mexico 1986. Despite opening up with a win over England, they went out in the group phase after defeats to Poland and Morocco.

Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui PatrĂ­cio (Sporting)
Defenders: Andre Almeida (Benfica), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Neto (Zenit St Petersburg), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia)
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon), Rafa (Braga)
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (Braga), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Varela (FC Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg)

The key players
As he showed in the play-off against Sweden, Cristiano Ronaldo is still very much Portugal’s go-to man, though the peerless Real Madrid star is supported by a very able cast. The central-defensive pairing of Pepe and Bruno Alves is the cornerstone of a very solid rearguard that also features flying full-backs Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao. Joao Moutinho is the heartbeat of a creative midfield unit, while Nani can also be relied upon to shine alongside Ronaldo. Another name to look out for at this tournament and beyond is the physically imposing Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho. The midfielder was given his international debut in the away leg against Sweden and did not disappoint. He has the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal on his tail, and should go for big money after the World Cup. In the words of his Sporting team-mate Diego Capel ‘there is no limit for him’.

The Coach: Paulo Bento
The former Sporting Lisbon coach and player guided Portugal to the semi-finals of Euro 2012 where they lost to Spain on penalties after a drab 0-0 draw in Donetsk. Bento is likely to employ a 4-3-3 formation in Brazil, where he will hope to keep the peace after a number of confrontations with players since taking over in 2010.

Prediction: Knockout Stage
Portugal have landed in a tough looking group alongside Germany, USA and Ghana. Joachim Lowe’s men should top the group, and Portugal will be favourites to edge out the other two. However, their inconsistency could let them down especially when coming up against bigger nations.

Quick Facts:
Fifa Ranking:3rd
Best World Cup Result: Third Place (1966)
Best European Championship Result: Runners-Up (2004)
Record Scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo
Most Capped Player: Luis Figo (127 caps between 1991 and 2006)
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo

Group Matches:
Monday June 16 2014 v Germany (Salvador)
Sunday June 22 2014 v USA (Manaus)
Thursday June 26 2014 v Ghana (Estadio Nacional, Brasilia) 

Ghana head to the World Cup finals with confidence, if not expectations high. Those expectations have been tamed slightly after The Black Stars were drawn in Group G alongside three-time champions Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and a Jurgen Klinsmann-led United States, whom Ghana defeated in both the 2006 and 2010 editions. Nevertheless, Ghana, who boast the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Asamoah Gyan in their ranks, will harbor ambitions of causing an upset of similar proportions to their journey into the quarter-finals in South Africa four years ago. Ghana topped their qualifying group, which included 2012 African Cup of Nations champions Zambia, with five wins out of six games. They eventually booked their flight to Brazil by dismantling much-fancied Egypt 7-3 on aggregate.

How they qualified
Ghana survived one of the continent's toughest qualifying groups by winning five of their six matches against 2012 African champions Zambia, Lesotho and Sudan. A 1-0 defeat in Zambia was their only set-back in a campaign that saw them outscore their opponents by 15 goals to three. That sent them into the final play-off round, where again the Black Stars were done no favours by the draw, which set them up against seven-time African champions Egypt. However, a resounding 6-1 win the home first leg basically settled the tie and sent them into their third FIFA World Cup in succession even before a meaningless 2-1 defeat in Cairo.

World Cup history
An impressive FIFA World Cup finals in 2006 saw the Black Stars beat the Czech Republic and the USA before being eliminated by Brazil in the second round, but they were the only African team to escape their group. In 2010, they were again the only side from the continent in the knockout rounds, and they equalled Africa’s best-ever performance by beating the USA to reach the quarter-finals. Ghana’s loss in a penalty shoot-out to Uruguay in the last eight was perhaps the most dramatic of the tournament, and they may well consider themselves as having unfinished business after Asamoah Gyan’s missed penalty kick denied them from becoming the first African side to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup.

Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates), Adam Kwarasey (Stromsgodset), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars)
Defenders: Samuel Inkoom (Platanias), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege/Porto), Harrison Afful (Esperance), John Boye (Rennes), Jonathan Mensah (Evian), Rashid Sumalia (Mamelodi Sundowns)
Midfielders: Michael Essien (AC Milan), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Christian Atsu (Vitesse), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan)
Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes), Jordan Ayew (Sochaux)

Key Players
There are few midfields in the world that posses the physicality like Ghana's as the Black Stars can call on veterans Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari as well as players hitting their prime like Andre Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Up front, the athletic Asamoah Gyan will be a vital focal point and no doubt anxious to prove that Ghana can be the undisputed class of Africa.

The Coach: James Kwesi Appiah
James Kwesi Appiah, also known as Akwasi Appiah, has made big strides in his short managerial career so far, after a playing career which spanned ten years. A left-back by trade, Appiah played for his country between 1987 and 1992, appearing in two World Cup qualifying matches. Since then, Manchester City have given Appiah training towards becoming a coach, and he made use of that knowledge during his stint as Ghana’s assistant manager between 2007 and 2012, a period in which he also guided Ghana’s Under 23 side to All-Africa Games glory. Appiah took over the reins of the national team in 2012, and became the first black African coach to take Ghana to the World Cup finals.

Prediction: Group Stage
There were some tough groups and some not so tough groups to come out of the World Cup draw, and unfortunately for Ghana, Group G falls under the ‘group of death’ category. Germany and Portugal both possess an array of world-class talent, and will be the nailed on favourites to progress into the knockout stages. Ghana’s best hope is to beat United States and steal a point off one, if not both, of the big guns. For that to happen, current top scorer Gyan will need to be at his scintillating best, and Boateng shall need to raise his game on the big stage. Ghana though, look set to bow out at the first hurdle.

Quick Facts:
Fifa Ranking: 38th
Best World Cup Result: Quarter-finals (2010)
Best Africa Cup of Nations Result: Winners (1963, 1965, 1978 & 1982)
Record Scorer: Edward Acquah & Kwasi Owusu (40)
Most Capped Player: Richard Kingson (90)
Captain: Asamoah Gyan

Group Matches:
Monday June 16 2014 v United States (Arena das Dunas, Natal)
Saturday June 21 2014 v Germany ( Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza)
Thursday June 26 2014 v Portugal (Estadio Nacional, Brasilia)

Impressive victories over Italy and Germany since 2012, a record 12 match winning run last year and securing qualification with two games to spare shows that the USA will be no pushovers this World Cup. However, ‘The Yanks’ face a monumental challenge on improving upon 2010’s round of 16 elimination. Placed in what many are calling this year’s ‘Group of Death’, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side will need to get past one or even both of European powerhouses Portugal and Germany, while Ghana make up the final group spot. Supposedly the weakest side of the four, it was the Africans who knocked the USA out back in 2010. Their main hopes will be pinned upon the experience of Clint Dempsey and the solid partnership of Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in the middle of the park, while Tim Howard will do his best between the sticks.
Klinsmann, describing their group as “the worst of the worst”, does not inspire much confidence in his side’s chances, and to compound the difficulty that lies ahead, the vital match against Portugal will be played in the stifling humidity of Manaus, conditions that will prove just as much of a challenge as the opposition.

How they qualified
The Americans had an ominous start to their final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF zone, losing out 2-1 on the road in Honduras. The result had many in the US media questioning Jurgen Klinsmann’s approach and tactics. All that suspicion quickly melted away, however, as the German proved totally up to the task, guiding the Stars and Stripes deftly to a first-place finish in the six-team Hexagonal. He experimented with old players in new positions, new players throughout the squad, changed formations freely and generally created a new atmosphere of confidence and competition in the team. They won an astounding seven of their ten games, scoring a Hexagonal-high 15 goals, conceding only eight, losing only once, and finishing four full points above runners-up Costa Rica in the final standings. If the trajectory continues for Klinsmann’s rampaging side, the sky might just be the limit in Brazil.

World Cup history
The first US team to turn up at a FIFA world finals earned the dubious nickname of the ‘shot-putters’ for their muscular and burly nature, but 3-0 wins over Paraguay and Belgium in 1930 was enough for a third-place finish, to this day the best placing for any team outside of Europe or South America. Four years later the Americans went out in the first round, but they caused a grand sensation in Brazil in 1950 when led by outstanding goalkeeper Frank Borghi, they managed to beat mighty England in Belo Horizante in an upset for the ages. Another first-round exit came in 1990, but as hosts in 1994 they managed to reach the knockout rounds, a result that paved the way to more consistency. And after a last-place finish at France 1998, they beat Portugal and Mexico in Korea/Japan 2002 and only just missed out on a semi-final place after losing to Germany. In 2006 they went out in the first round again, this time in Germany before reaching the Round of 16 in South Africa in 2010.

Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nurnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Key players
Jozy Altidore of English Premier League outfit Sunderland, emerged as the complete package during the final qualifying competition. Left out of the team due to poor form and attitude in the semi-final round, Klinsmann reconsidered and wasn’t let down by his burly striker, who scored goals for fun and was the perfect partner for Clint Dempsey in attack. Landon Donovan, long-time creative icon of the US national team, made a return to football after a self-imposed months-long ‘sabbatical’ and linked up beautifully with the sturdy central midfield presence of Roma’s Michael Bradley. With Tim Howard still a dominant presence between the sticks, the Americans are loaded with ability wherever you look.

The Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
A World Cup and European Championship winner during his playing days, former German international Klinsmann was a real coup for the USA when he was hired back in 2011. Having led his country at their home World Cup in 2006, he had an unsuccessful season at Bayern Munich before crossing the Atlantic. He has grown frustrated with the lack of European soccer being played by those within his squad, but the impressive form of his team through 2012 and 2013 earned Klinsmann a contract renewal up to 2018, demonstrating the confidence in him that the USA currently have.

Prediction: Group Stage
The opening match is vital. They will be looking to gain revenge on Ghana for their 2010 knockout and they can approach the dual threat of the Amazonian humidity and Ronaldo with a degree of optimism. If they do not, then they could well be dead and buried before Klinsmann even gets the chance to get one over on his home country. It will surely be one of the stories of the tournament if the USA manages to progress into the knockout stages but that is doubtful with Germany and Portugal tipped to finish first and second in the group.

Quick Facts:
Fifa Ranking: 14th
Best World Cup Result: Third (1930)
Best CONCACAF Gold Cup Result: Winners (1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013)
Record Scorer: Landon Donovan (57)
Most Capped Player: Cobi Jones (164)
Captain: Clint Dempsey

Group Matches:
Monday 16th June v Ghana (Natal)
Sunday 22nd June v Portugal (Manaus)
Thursday 26th June v Germany (Recife)