World Cup Preview: Group G

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Group G promises to be one of the most entertaining groups of the tournament purely because there will be a direct rivalry in almost every match. When Germany face Portugal, both will see it as a playoff for top spot, while when Ghana face up against Portgual in the third round of fixtures, it’s likely to be a straight shootout to join Germany in the last 16, meanwhile, Jurgen Klinsmann will have the bit between his teeth as he looks to get one over his former employers when the USA come up against the Germans. The group is poised to be a captivating spectacle for tournament spectators.

Germany

Europe’s frontrunners, ahead of Spain according to the bookmakers, expectation is high both inside and outside of Germany. Joachim Loew will be looking to go one further than the semi finals he has has reached in three successive tournaments in charge, and if qualifying form is anything to go by, they’ll be hard to stop. With 23 wins from 25 games since the last world cup, the Germans come into the tournament in formidable, free scoring form,top scoring in qualifying with 36 goals in 10 games. Worryingly for Loew however, their games have seen goals at both ends, with the Germans keeping 5/10 clean sheets in their qualifying campaign, including two against the Faroe Islands. If Andy Keogh can find the back of Manuel Neuer’s net, Cristiano Ronaldo and Asamoah Gyan will fancy their chances. Sami Khedira has returned from injury just in time to offer the back four a little more protection from midfield, while veterans Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Philip Lahm will all have a big part to play in any German success. Loew, however will be without star attacker Marco Reus, after his injury against Armenia. Built from the back, in a 4231 formation, the Germans like to move the ball quickly along the floor, towards the trio in behind the lone striker before laying siege on the opposition defence. The Germans have arrived with the intention of going all the way, building their own training camp in Brazil, while the gaffer issued a serious wake up call to his backroom staff to ensure the Germans are in peak condition by the time they kick off against Portugal. Defensive concerns, questions over whether even Loew knows their strongest eleven, as well as two early kick offs in the desert like North-Easterly region will serve as a chink in the German battle armour this summer, and punters should be well aware of such factors when backing the team at such a short price. Expect them to take the groups by storm, and if things go their way, possibly even the latter stages, but the tournament’s third favourites is not a tag I feel they’re worthy of. Loew will be looking to make the semi finals at least, while anything further, for me, should be regarded as a big success for his team

Portugal

Unconvincing in qualifiers, but what’s new there, Portugal turned to their star man to fire them to the World Cup, and he did not disappoint. Bagging a hat trick in the playoffs to see off a testing Sweden side, one gets the impression that will be Ronaldo’s defining moment in a Portugal shirt, until the next major tournament at least. Not to be disrespected, but some distance behind the best teams in the tournament, Paulo Bento has assembled a close knit side, full of character and commitment. Unsurprisingly, the side is set up for Ronaldo’s benefit, shaping up in a 433, with Helder Postiga in particular acting as a foil for the 2013 Ballon D’or winner. Unlucky to meet Spain early on in both of their last two tournaments, there is still cause for optimism in the Portugal camp. Supporters won’t be planning any open top bus parades along the streets of Lisbon just yet, but they will expect their side to reach the quarter finals at least. A squad containing names such as Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Joao Moutinho is capable of anything, and the Portuguese are certainly worthy of respect this summer. Preparations have gone well, with Ronaldo expected to shake off the knock that has kept him on the sidelines for recent friendlies. After succumbing to an undeserving 1-0 loss to the Germans in the group stages at Euro 2012, A Selecao will be determined to put the record straight in their opener this summer. Their lack of a top quality centre forward has put a lid on expectation, while the squad will have to clock up 7,452 air miles, one of the highest in the tournament over the course of the group stages. Should they avoid defeat against the Germans, top spot will be up for grabs, and Portugal are more than capable of winning it. A capable dark horse, Portugal will expect to reach the quarter finals at least, and anything more, given the resources at Bento’s disposal compared to the tournament favourites, should be considered a bonus.

Ghana

Capturing the heart’s of football fans across the world after their gut wrenching exit in 2010, Ghana will be hoping to go one further this summer, and coach Kwesi Appiah believes they can become the first African semi finalists. Top scorers in African qualifying, winning five of six games, and demolishing Egypt in the playoff, Ghana come in to the tournament in the form of their lives. Appiah, nicknamed the ‘silent killer’ by his players prefers to utilize a 4231 formation, with Essien and Muntari sitting back, allowing the likes of Gyan, Boateng and Ayew to pull the strings further forward. Their form against non African sides is a concern, drawing 4 and losing 5 of their nine encounters since the last world cup while certain players such as Essien who has struggled to get off the ground in the last couple of seasons, as well as front man Asamoah Gyan, who has barely been heard from since leaving Sunderland for Al Ain (despite his remarkable goalscoring form) are unlikely to recapture the heights of former glories. Appiah has plenty of attacking options on the bench, should he need them, including the likes of Christian Atsu, and Mubarak Wakaso, who if given the opportunity to showcase his ability, could turn out to be one of the stars of the Group Stages, if not the entire tournament. Nicknamed the ‘Brazil of Africa’ because of their tough tackling and ball playing ability, the Ghanaians are confident they can get out of a tricky Group G, and progress further into the tournament. Despite the high ambitions of this closely knit squad, it’s hard to see Ghana matching their 2010 and 2006 tournaments, where they progressed into the latter stages of the tournament. The final game against Portugal is likely to be critical in deciding their fate, once they are still in contention going into that game, anything is possible.

USA

Trying to rebuild his own reputation, and the reputation of the US football team, Jurgen Klinsmann has been handed quite the task in Group G. Impressive in qualifying, winning 11/16 games in total, and topping The Hex the Amercians are in good form. Despite this, the Yanks have been left despondent with the draw, with their principal aim being to avoid total embarrassment. The omission of icon Landon Donovan sent shock waves throughout America, and leaves Kilnsmann with a squad relying on graft and experience. The core of the side is respectable, with hopes pinned on the performances of Howard, Jones, Bradley, Dempsey and Altidore. The self-acclaimed ”guru football coach” has enjoyed tinkering with his side recently, implementing a variety of different shapes and tactics, and seemingly settling with the popular 4231. Defence is a major issue, the inexperience and lack of pace across the back line is expected to be exposed when the Yanks come up against some of world football’s best known attackers. Not only a horror group, but a horror draw to boot, the USMNT have a tournament high 10,188 air miles to travel, just to contest their group games, and to add insult to injury, will have to contest them in the treacherous conditions of Northern Brazil. With expectation as low as it is inside the States, an outsider like myself can be forgiven for giving the USA no hope of reaching the last 16. Without wanting to sound disrespectful, two of Germany, Portugal and Ghana would probably have to forfeit their games, to give them even a dollop of hope of reaching the next round. Anything other than the USA exiting the tournament at the earliest possible stage, should be regarded as a massive achievement for Klinsmann’s side.

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