The United States men’s national team got
drawn into a brutal World Cup groupwith Germany, Ghana, and Portugal on Friday.
The initial reaction from the American soccer community was a simple, “Oh no.”
Germany is one of the favourites to win the whole thing.
Portugal has one of the two best players in the world.
Ghana’s youth teams have been dominating at international tournaments, and the Black Stars knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups.
But over the past few days, an optimistic case for the U.S. emerging from this so-called “group of death” and advancing to the knockout stages has come into view.
Here’s that case.
Ghana isn’t that good.
Nick Silver says that we’re overstating the strength of Group G because we’re overrated Ghana.
Yes, they beat the U.S. in 2006 and 2010, but they’re hardly a juggernaut. They’re ranked 25th in the world, according to SPI, which is similar to Costa Rica and Mexico — two teams that the U.S. beat in CONCACAF qualifying.
The U.S. plays Ghana first in Brazil. It’s their best chance of getting three points, which would make the next two group games much more manageable.
Getting to play Portugal in middle of the jungle gives the U.S. an advantage.
USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t happy that the U.S. has to play a game in Manaus — the Amazonian outpost that was controversially selected as a World Cup host city. It’s hot and humid and thousands of miles away from the Atlantic coast, where the rest of the tournament is being played.
But if you had to guess at which team would be better equipped to handle imperfect conditions, you’d pick the U.S.
The Americans have played a CONCACAF qualifier against Honduras in sweltering heat in the most dangerous city in the world. They played one on a bumpy, weed-filled pitch in Jamaica. They played one in the middle of the blizzard in Denver.
They’re used to playing in circumstances that change the way you can play soccer.
In addition, superior conditioning has historically been the defining attribute of American soccer.
Germany might have nothing to play for in that final group stage game against the U.S.
The U.S. actually beat Germany 4-3 this summer. No one really gives it much merit because Germany played their “B” team and had zero motivation. If Germany brought its best players and needed to win, the thinking goes, they’d smoke the U.S.
But Germany might not need to win when that final group stage game comes around.
If they beat Portugal and Ghana in their first two games, they’ll already be qualified for the knockout stages under most scenarios.
In the last two World Cups combined, the 12 teams that won their first two group games had 6 wins, 4 draws and 2 losses in their final group game. That should give the U.S. some hope.
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