Nickname: Die Mannschaft
FIFA Ranking: 2 / Elo Ranking: 2
Qualified: UEFA (Europe) Group C Winners
Appearance: 18th - Best Finish: Champions (1954, 1974 as hosts, 1990)
Head Coach: Joachim Low (GER)
European qualifying groups have a tendency to me mediocre, but Germany drew Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Kazahhstan and minnows Faroe Islands, at least the first three teams could cause the Germans problems. If you know, they weren't Germany nearly went undefeated and had to settle for an unbeated 9-0-1 record scoring 36 goals. The Germans only blemish was a 4-4 draw vs. Sweden.
PLAYERS YOU SHOULD KNOW: Everyone, especially the rosters of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund because about half the roster plays for one of those two teams.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Thomas Muller, F/M, Bayern Munich (GER) - It's too hard to pick just one player on this roster, but Muller is 24, already has 51 international caps and 20 goals. Muller is just one of the many talented young players with a lot of experience internationally to go along with veterans like Miroslav Klose, Per Mertesacker and Philipp Lahm. (Yes, I picked him before he netted the hat trick vs. Portugal.)
SEND OFF MATCHES
Draw 2-2 vs. Cameroon, Win 6-1 vs. Armenia
This team can absolutely get to the final. They have all the tools, great goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer, solid defense and clinical finishers in Klose among others. They're deep, young and Germany's record at the World Cup as good as anyone's in the world besides Brazil. Can they get to the final? Yes, but it's a long road.
AFTER THEIR FIRST TWO GAMES
Well, Germany is still that good but perhaps we put a little too much stock in dismantling a 10-man Portugal squad in their first game. They'll still have to get a result against the USA to get to the knockout stages but Germany is still in a good position with four points from two games.
Nickname: Black Stars
FIFA Ranking: 37 / Elo Ranking: 35
Qualified: CAF (Africa) Group D Winners, defeated Egypt 7-3 in aggregate playoff
Appearance: 3rd - Best Finish: Quarterfinal (2010)
Head Coach: Akwasi Appiah (GHA)
Ghana was drawn into a second round group with Zambia, Lesotho and Sudan, amassing a 5-1 record with their only loss 0-1 at Zambia. Ghana scored 18 goals while only conceding 3 in six games. In the third round, Ghana was paired against former USMNT coach Bob Bradley and Egypt, the highest ranked team in Pot 2. Ghana would cruise in the opener at home 6-1 behind Asamoah Gyan's brace, all but clinching their spot at Brazil. Ghana lost the second leg at Egypt 1-2 but won the aggregate playoff 7-3.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Asamoah Gyan, ST, Al Ain (UAE) - The former Sunderland man has been racking up goals at the club level, 59 goals in 47 games with Al Ain. If that form translates to the international level, Ghana can make some noise in the group.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Jordan Ayew, ST, Marseile (FRA) - In the send-off series, he netted a hat trick against South Korea, and Ghana needs another threat up top and Ayew is it. The scariest part? He's 22 and going to be around for a long time.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Loss 0-1 at Netherlands, Win 4-0 vs. South Korea
Why is this the Group of Death? Because Ghana is the lowest ranked team and arguably the most talented team on the African continent. They can compete with just about anyone and if they don't make it out of the group than a good team is going home. In their previous two tournaments, they've gotten out of the group and have eliminated the USA in each of the last two tournaments. It will be a huge task to do it again.
AFTER THEIR FIRST TWO GAMES
Yeah, these guys are good. Despite losing to the USA and drawing Germany in an exciting 2-2 draw earlier, the Black Stars are alive in Group G but will probably need a huge win over Portugal to get out of group since Germany has such a large advantage in goal difference. Still a very solid performance in their first two games.
Nickname: A Seleccao
FIFA Ranking: 4 / Elo Ranking: 7
Qualified: UEFA (Europe) Group F 2nd Place, defeated Sweden 4-2 in aggregate playoff
Appearance: 6th - Best Finish: 3rd Place (1966)
Head Coach: Paulo Bento (POR)
ROSTER BREAKDOWN: 6 Domestic, 6 Spain, 3 Turkey, 1 Croatia, 1 Russia, 1 Ukraine, 1 France (Monaco), 1 Germany, 1 England, 1 Italy
Portugal finished runner up behind Russia in Group F that also included Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland and Luxembourg. With a 6-1-3 record and 21 points, Portugal finished one point behind Russia who went 7-2-1 with each team scoring 20 goals in their group matches. Portugal and Russia split their head-to-head games, both teams winning at home 1-0.
In the playoff round, Portugal went into the second leg vs. Sweden with a 1-0 lead and then Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put on a show in the second game, with Ronaldo's hat trick out dueling Zlatan's brace in the 3-2 win, giving Portugal a 4-2 aggregate win and a trip to Brazil.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Joao Moutinho, MID, Monaco (FRA) - No, were not going with the two wingers, but instead with the central midfielder who will be tasked with getting the ball to Ronaldo, Nani and the strikers. He can play just about anywhere in the midfield and his distribution will be key for Portugal not only maintaining possession but starting the attack as well.
PLAYERS WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Strikers Hugo Almeida (Besiktas, TUR) and Eder (Braga, POR) - The center forwards for Portugal are going to be vital, we all know what the wingers Ronaldo and Nani can do, but the success of this team's attack might hinge on what these two can do in the penalty area.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Portugal is a hard team to peg, they're talented enough to deserve their high ranking yet at the same time they've only recently became a consistent European power, making the semifinals or better in three of the last four Euro tournaments. They've had some solid performances in the European Championships but aside from a 4th place finish at Germany 2006, this is a team that knows they can do better. In 2010, they finished second in their group behind Brazil and lost to eventual champions Spain in the Round of 16. I can see them making a solid run into the knockout stages or getting dumped out of the group.
AFTER THE FIRST GAME
Bad Portugal showed up in the first game, losing 4-0 to Germany with defender Pepe getting sent off and really putting Portugal in a deep hole to climb out of. If Portugal do get the results they need, any tiebreaker scenario that involves goal difference probably doesn't go their way.
UNITED STATES (USA)
Nickname: The Yanks
FIFA Ranking: 13 / Elo Ranking: 13
Qualified: CONCACAF (N. America) 1st Place
Appearance: 10th - Best Finish: Semifinals (1930)
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann (GER)
ROSTER BREAKDOWN: 9 MLS/Domestic, 4 England, 4 Germany, 1 Mexico, 1 Norway, 1 Turkey, 1 France, 1 Netherlands
It was a rough start for the USA's qualifying campaign, losing 0-2 at Honduras. But wins over Costa Rica 1-0 in the now infamous Snow Clasico and a 0-0 draw at Azteca vs. Mexico put the US back on track. They clinched qualification following a 2-0 win over Mexico at Columbus, Ohio, keeping alive the best scoreline in all of soccer "Dos a Cero."
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Michael Bradley, MID, Toronto FC (CAN/MLS) - Besides everybody, you should Bradley for a lot of reasons but basically he's one of the most underrated center midfielders in the world mainly because he's American.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Fabian Johnson, DEF, Borussia Monchengladbach (GER) - Normally plays on the left side of the field, Johnson has been tasked with filling the void at right back, a position that has been unsettled since Steve Cherundolo left the team and retired due to injuries. But Johnson is uniquely suited to fill the void left by ‘Dolo, and if he is rampaging up and down the flanks for the USA, good things are happening.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Win 2-0 vs. Azerbaijan, Win 2-1 vs. Turkey, W 2-1 vs. Nigeria
The US has long been trying to turn their regional dominance to consistent World Cup performances. Getting put in the Group of Death is both an honor and a curse, because if the USA has to be good enough to be the third and fourth quality team in the group and also be talented enough to be able to get out of the group. It's never easy and usually an adventure for the USA and this tournament will be no different.
AFTER THEIR FIRST GAME
Hmm...I guess I should take back those comments about John Brooks not being ready for the World Cup. That win over Ghana has set the USA up in prime position to not only get out of the group but advance with a game in hand. A US victory over Portugal would clinch the US a berth in the Round of 16.
June 16 - Germany 4, Portugal 0
June 16 - United States 2, Ghana 1
June 21 - Germany 2, Ghana 2
June 22 - United States vs. Portugal, 6PM EST, ESPN, Manaus
June 26 - United States vs. Germany, 12PM EST, ESPN, Recife
June 26 - Portugal vs. Ghana, 12PM EST, ESPN2, Brasilia
PREDICTIONS 1) Germany 2) United States 3) Portugal 4) Ghana
No, I'm not being a homer, okay, I'm not being a complete homer, but I did predict this before the tournament started and I'm sticking to it. The most disappointing thing is that I probably should have given Ghana more respect than Portugal and put them last but can't change it now. I had an idea that both the USA and Germany would have won both of their first two games and clinched before that show down at Recife, but at least the US still has that chance.
May you all watch and enjoy the US-Portugal game tomorrow.