Martin Rogers: Group of Death foes show respect for U.S.

The United States has been drawn against some stiff competition for next summer's World Cup, but Portugal, Ghana and Germany are not underestimating the underdog Americans.
Many soccer nations operate in a constant state of patriotic delusion in which the country's public and media grossly overestimate its national team's chances of performing well at a World Cup.

In the United States, the opposite is the case.

Last week's World Cup draw that placed the U.S. in one of two "Groups of Death" alongside Germany, Portugal and Ghana has been treated with such negativity on these shores that a novice soccer fan could be forgiven for thinking Jurgen Klinsmann's side shouldn't even bother boarding the plane to Brazil next summer.

What might shock the noisy doom-mongers in this country is that nowhere across the soccer universe is there anywhere near the same level of pessimism about the United States' chances.

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Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and his achievements with the national team have not gone unnoticed internationally. Such progress allowed Klinsmann to sign a new contract extension on Thursday in a deal that will now run through the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

"The United States could be our toughest game," Ghana assistant coach Maxwell Konadu said to reporters this week. "We have played them twice and beaten them but they won't want to be beaten [again] so that tells the story. Trust me, [they] are not easy."

The reality is that the soccer world has far more respect for the U.S. than some element of the American soccer community. One of the major reasons why Group G is seen as a Group of Death is because the U.S., the strongest team in its pot, is a part of it. That would not be the case if you switched out the Americans for Honduras, Iran or South Korea.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, currently considered the world's best player, has tried to stay clear of looking ahead to the World Cup, but even he admitted in brief comments this week that he would be giving Klinsmann's men due respect.

"They are a very good team, that is obvious," Ronaldo said. "If your objective is to win the World Cup you have to try to beat every team, even if they are the most difficult ones you could have got."

In expert predictions around the globe, the only clear picture was that Germany is almost universally considered the favorite to top Group G. According to different correspondents, Portugal could place in anywhere from first to fourth.

And that, in a nutshell, sums up perfectly the unpredictability of the World Cup. Crazy stuff happens and it happens so often that maybe it wasn't so crazy to begin with.


In 2002, defending World Cup and European champion France entered as the hot favorite to win it all but bombed out in the group stage. Four years ago, 2006 winner Italy did the same after losing to Slovakia and tying New Zealand. Moreover, Serbia defeated Germany and Switzerland beat eventual champion Spain at South Africa 2010.

Favored teams fail. Underdogs prevail. Inner cliques tear apart squads. Unheralded sides find inspiration either in collectivity or by riding the coattails of an individual who has the game of his life.

While predictions are fun, they mean nothing. And no team, not even the woebegone Australians – who got lumped with Spain, Netherlands and Chile and have lost two friendlies 6-0 – are "done" already.

"Any team can beat any team," Germany assistant coach Oliver Bierhoff said. And while some teams are obviously more likely to enjoy success than others and a Group of Death is far from being an optimal landing point, he is absolutely right.

The eternal pessimists would do well to take note.

Martin Rogers is a soccer columnist for Yahoo! Sports