The former U.S. captain gives an inside look on what the Stars and Stripes can expect in the group stages against Germany, Ghana and Portugal.It's an interesting draw for the United States. Right away what stands out is the rematch from the last two World Cups with familiar foe Ghana, which has been very difficult for the U.S. in recent history.
Another dynamic is the U.S. being drawn into the group with Germany, a legitimate title contender that always seems to do well in tournaments. And you can throw in the fact that current U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was the former German national team coach and player - he scored the second goal against the USA in the 1998 World Cup during the group stage. It makes things a little more interesting and I'm sure the media will be salivating over this in both countries.
Portugal, the third opponent for the USA, presents a bit of a wild card, but is a very strong opponent. Obviously everyone's eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo, but the European side has plenty of other dangerous players and a pretty stingy defense with names like Pepe and Coentrao, who line up for Real Madrid. The team scored 25 goals and conceded only 10 against in its World Cup qualifying campaign.
In major tournaments I think the rankings go out the window. That doesn't mean you disrespect your opponents or take them lightly, but on the grand stage, when all the lights are on and pointed at you, there seems to be a trend in how teams perform.
Let's take a look and see what the Americans have in front of them.
The USA plays Ghana in the first game of the group stage. This is a very important match that sets the stage for the rest of group play. We need a result in this game, preferably a win but a tie at the very least. I think this Cup will be the one where we put this strong Ghana team behind us. The last two meetings between the U.S. and Ghana were tight games and could have been won by the Americans. I think we will go into this game with a lot of confidence and go for the W, which we can get.
If we are not able to pull out a win in the first game it sets us up for two very difficult matches against strong European teams.
Next up, Portugal. It happened in 2002 and hopefully we can do it again in Brazil. The U.S. has nothing to lose in this game coming in as an underdog. It's going to be a case of team defense and some good, solid counterattacking, which has been the USA's bread and butter when we are able to beat big teams.
Depending on what happens in the first game, the U.S. will need a win or draw to stay in the hunt. If we draw against Ghana, then we need to beat Portugal. Looking at results in the other games, a tie might be alright but that leaves a big task ahead for the boys against one of the favorites in the tournament on short rest: Germany.
The third match of the group phase brings a lot of possibilities. Maybe Germany is already through with two wins? The U.S. might only need a draw to secure its passage to the next round. Portugal and Ghana could be playing spoiler in their game. Whatever the case, it's going to be another very difficult match for U.S. against a proven country with a great track record in tournaments. The U.S. is going to have to put in another solid team defense and counter-performance, keeping a special eye on Mesut Ozil, who is the in-form player in Europe right now , and a potential Golden Ball winner.
The U.S. will need some big performances from the big players. This is when players need to stand up and be counted. As always, the heart and commitment will be there from the guys. This is what the U.S. team is all about - fighting for your teammates and putting your country first until the final whistle blows.
No one knows what scenario will play out. The U.S. has been drawn into a tough group. This is what makes the World Cup so much fun to follow and watch. Entire countries gathered around televisions. Hanging on every kick from their team. It's an exciting time and now it's real. All the groups are set. Every nation has six months to prepare for their opening game.
We should be confident going into the tournament but respect every opponent the same. I think the USMNT can make some noise down in Brazil.
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