Group G has one more day until the teams in the alleged group of death begin play in the FIFA World Cup. Germany and Portugal will kick the group off with a 11:30 a.m. Eastern time start from Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador followed up with a 5:30 p.m. start for the USA and Ghana from Estadio das Dunas in Natal. Both games are scheduled to air on ESPN.
Dominating Portugal’s build up to Brazil has been ongoing discussions regarding the health of Cristiano Ronaldo. While Portugal is a strong team out of Europe, the Real Madrid superstar elevated Portugal to a number three world ranking. After missing some friendlies prior to the start of the tournament, that ranking slipped to number four. Ronaldo is battling with a nagging injury to the star’s left leg. Ronaldo, who is regarded as the best player in the world, is the key factor for Portugal if the team wants to have a fighting chance against Germany.
Both Germany and Portugal view Monday’s game as a must win. With the USA and Ghana waiting in the wings, earning three points in the first game is a must. A draw could very well open the door for either the United States or the Black Stars to move out of group play. While Portugal will need Ronaldo to have a chance against Germany, injuries have also struck the Germans. Germany is banking on 36-year old Miroslav Klose as the teams only true striker to attack the Portuguese defense. The big question for the Germans is who will be playing behind Klose and where.
Veteran midfielder Marco Reus tore ligaments in the German star’s ankle during a friendly against Armenia taking the fixture of the squad off of the FIFA World Cup roster. Injuries to a trio of players from Bayern Munich have also set back training for the Group G favorite. Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm are both expected to play, however, it is unclear if Lahm will play defense or midfield against Portugal. Germany had another scare as Bastian Schweinsteiger was airlifted from the team’s training camp in Brazil. The German coaching staff just needed Schweinsteiger to have his knee checked out and expects the midfielder to join his Bayern Munich teammates on the pitch. With all of the injuries plaguing both teams, match day decisions may shuffle the anticipated starting line-ups for both squads.
USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann feels that in preparation for the World Cup, all players should play against the best in the world. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley returned to Major League Soccer (MLS) from top European leagues and that concerns head coach Klinsmann. The coach feels great players can dominate in the US soccer league, however, they will not improve unless they play against the best. The coach has a strong belief that playing professional soccer in the United States may hurt the progression of the USA in the international game. It is clear that the USA wants to win and backed that up with last years dominating performance in the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying games. While the squad in Brazil is not the same group that put up the best season in USA soccer history, it is a roster made up of a mix of veterans and youth desperate to win. Depending on the health of Germany and Portugal, the United States has come to Brazil to win.
Like the USA, the Black Stars of Ghana have come to win. The entire country of Ghana has united in support of the national team. The government has airlifted nearly 500 Ghanians to Brazil to support the team. The Black Stars will have to get past the United States first. Ghana has had little trouble with the boys from America in the past, never losing to the USA. Two of Ghana’s four victories over the USA ended the Americans previous two World Cup hopes. Ghana may be entering the game Monday with a false sense of security. It is not the same United States team faced four years ago. This US squad not only wants to make their fans proud, the team wants to prove head coach Klinsmann wrong. The only worry for the Americans is the health of Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley. Both have suffered from some minor injuries leading into the World Cup, but both appear ready to go after the USA’s first ever victory over Ghana Monday.
While there is still one more day to go before the teams of Group G start of play, the teams are using this time wisely. The coaches for each team want to ensure the healthiest and best line-ups take to the pitch to start the quest for the FIFA World Cup. Any team that can make it out of this group of death will be considered a serious threat to all the teams in the knockout stage. While Germany and Portugal are the favorites, no one in the tournament should overlook the underdogs USA and Ghana. It is the World Cup and matches from the other groups that are already in the books have shown the soccer world that anything can happen and no team is safe.
Commentary by Carl Auer