In the last two FIFA World Cup tournaments, the U.S. National Team has been sent home with 2-1 defeats at the hands of the Ghana.
In 2014 – three years, 11 months and 22 days since they met in the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup in Rustenburg, South Africa – the U.S. will face Ghana in its first match of the tournament on June 16 in Natal, Brazil. While Ghana has been the bugaboo for the Stars and Stripes, the other two teams in Group G are even more daunting, with Germany and Portugal rounding out perhaps the toughest group in the draw.
“We hit one of those real big, killer groups,” U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a video posted by U.S. Soccer. “Ghana has a story with us already, Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, and then obviously Germany … it couldn’t get any bigger. It couldn’t get any more difficult.”
The U.S. is ranked 14th in the world, according to the FIFA World Rankings, while Germany is ranked No. 2, Portugal is No. 5 and Ghana is No. 24.
While it is a tough draw, Klinsmann’s U.S. side embraces that challenge.
“You want to play against the best players. You want to play against the best teams. We’ve got an opportunity to play against Germany, who is one of the top two teams in the world. Portugal, they have a lot of quality and one of the best players in the world on their side. And a chance for a little bit of revenge against Ghana,” said Sounders FC forward and U.S. Captain Clint Dempsey. “It’s going to make for an exciting World Cup for us. It’s definitely a difficult group, but that’s what it’s all about. Playing in the World Cup, playing on the biggest stage and seeing if you have what it takes to do something special.”
In addition to the 2010 Round of 16, U.S.A. also lost to Ghana, 2-1, in the Group Stage in 2006, knocking them out of contention for a spot in the Round of 16. In 2002, Germany ousted the Americans, 1-0, in the quarterfinals.
After Ghana, the U.S. will face Portugal on June 22, then close out the Group Stage with Germany on June 26.
Led by the midfield pair of Michael Essien (Chelsea) and Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Ghana also features former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan, who has 39 goals in 77 appearances for the Black Stars of Africa.
Ghana finished first in its World Cup qualifying group, then hammered Egypt 7-3 to advance to the World Cup.
Portugal is led by Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, who has 49 goals in 107 appearances and is among the top players in the world. It also has Valencia veteran Helder Postiga, Nani of Manchester United and Fenerbahce’s Raul Miereles.
Portugal finished second in its World Cup qualifying group behind Russia, qualifying for the World Cup by outlasting Sweden in a playoff, 4-2 on aggregate. Ronaldo scored all four goals in the playoff round.
Germany has won the World Cup three times and finished in the top four 13 times, including third-place finished in 2006 under Klinsmann and 2010. It is a nation loaded with talent and experience and is looking to get over the hump of the semifinals and back into the World Cup Final.
Germany went 9-0-1 in its group to qualify for the World Cup, with the only draw coming in exciting fashion, 4-4 with Sweden.
“When you play these big nations you have a point to prove,” Klinsmann said. “We’re going to go for it.”
The other groups offer some intrigue, as well.
In Group A, Mexico was drawn in with hosts Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon. Group B starts with a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final, with Spain and Netherlands squaring off. Chile and Australia round out that group. Colombia leads Group C with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan joining the fray. Group D is another tough draw, with Uruguay, Italy and England all in the top 13 in the world and Costa Rica as the fourth team. Group E, on the other hand, has Switzerland and France along with Ecuador and Honduras. Argentina has perhaps the most favorable draw, with Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia in Group F and Group H is Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea.
The World Cup begins on June 12 with Brazil facing Croatia in the tournament opener in Sao Paolo.