By Ray Hamill
To all the U.S. soccer fans feeling unlucky to have landed in the proverbial group of death in Friday’s World Cup draw, you should remember it could always be worse – you could be Australia
Their group is so full of death, the grim reaper is worried he’s going to put his back out, and going up against Spain, the Netherlands and Chile, it’s a safe bet the Aussies will be eliminated quicker than you can say “throw some shrimp on the barbie while I grab a bloody Fosters.”
As for the U.S., well, it’s certainly going to be difficult, but not impossible, and believe it or not the Americans actually lucked out a little in the scheduling of the games.
The importance of playing Ghana in the opener cannot be understated. First, it’s a very winnable game for the United States, and the players won’t need any extra motivation considering it was the Ghanaians who knocked them out of the last World Cup – and the one before that as well.
Next comes Portugal, quite probably the most over-rated team in Europe right now.
Don’t get me wrong, the Portuguese are dangerous, but nowhere near as much as people perceive them to be, and they have certainly not lived up to their No. 5 world ranking during qualification, playing second fiddle to Russia in the group stage.
Everybody talks of Cristiano Ronaldo and rightly so. He’s as good at playing soccer as he is at checking himself out in the mirror, and he’s apparently very, very good at that, so containing him will be a massive challenge if he’s on his game.
But when a team relies too heavily on one player it can be dangerous if that player has an off day, which Ronaldo has a reputation of doing at the major tournaments.
The Germans are the third opponent for the U.S., and there is little doubt they will win the group.
Germany is usually the best prepared of all the contenders – mentally and physically – and unlike some of their fellow No. 1 seeds, they never come out flat on the big stage. They are the most consistent team in the world.
The Germans, in fact, have reached the semifinals in six of the past eight World Cups (Italy is next best with four semifinal appearances in that time, while Brazil has managed just three), and have gone on to the final on four of those occasions.
So they won’t be an easy proposition for the Americans, but then again, all of the top seeds would be expected to beat the U.S. – that’s what makes them top seeds – and they’ll be expected to beat Ghana and Portugal as well.
Forget about the Germans. The success or failure of the campaign will instead come down to how the U.S. fares against the other two teams in the group, and when you look at it like that, it doesn’t appear quite as intimidating a challenge.
Don’t get me wrong, the draw didn’t do the U.S. any favors Friday and it won’t be easy.
But then again, this is the World Cup. Exactly what did you expect?