Kickin’ It: Staffer highlights US World Cup team, makes predictions

Matt Antonic, Sports Editor

The US came back from the world cup draw reeling from the results — the team was drawn into the long-feared “Group of Death,” filled with four teams ranked in FIFA’s Top 25. Each nation in the group advanced to the Knockout Round in 2010 World Cup. The US was drawn into Group G with heavyweights Ghana, Portugal and Germany, the latter two being ranked in the top ten of the world. Only two teams can advance to the knockout round. US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann called the draw the “worst of the worst,” and few soccer pundits expect the US to make it into the next round. Although the US is between a rock and a hard place, the draw also presents an excellent opportunity to prove itself in a difficult group, having been in one of the easiest groups of the 2010 World Cup. The Americans will be under tremendous pressure to perform in what could be a defining year in the history of American International Soccer.
USA vs. GHANA  (June 18)
US Soccer fans will be praying that the Ghost of Ghana can finally be put to rest. The Black Stars have eliminated the USA from the last two World Cup competitions. In 2006, the US needed a win to make it into the knockout stage and lost 2-1. In 2010, the scoreline again read 2-1 with Ghana scoring in extra time. If the Americans want any realistic chance of advancing out of the group, three points are a necessity as Ghana is by far the best team for the US to beat.
Key to US Victory — Ghana terrorizes slower teams due to its speed and counterattack. The US midfield will have to be in top form to keep the counter of Ghana in check and avoid being overtaken on the wings by Michael Essien and company.

PORTUGAL — Portugal won a do-or-die UEFA Playoff with Sweden, single-handedly won thanks to four goals from arguably the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. He may terrorize the US defense — however, his performances at world tournaments have been little more than mediocre. Aside from Ronaldo, Portugal, while very talented, is not the monster machine they may seem to be. A Selecao had a handful of poor performances against smaller nations in qualifying and will lose significant power if Ronaldo is not in top form. The US will need at least a draw, perhaps even another victory, heading to the match with Germany.
Key to US Victory — If the Americans can find a way to slow Ronaldo and keep his touches limited, the US can attack the suspect Portuguese defense through sustained possession.

GERMANY — Germany is widely regarded as a favorite to win it all this summer, with one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Manuel Neuer, and a stacked midfield. To say that the Americans will be underdogs in this game would be the understatement of the World Cup. The US would be smart to have secured passage into the Knockout Round before this match — which won’t be an easy task — but certainly easier than trying to beat two-time World Champions. A tie is within reach, but a win against Die Mannschaft would be enough of an upset to rumble the foundations of international soccer. The US will also look to avenge World Cup losses to Germany from 1998 and 2002.
Key to US Victory – The US will have to slow the powerful German midfield, led by Mesut Ozil and veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger, in order to possess the ball and create a strong counterattack.

Spain Not A Favorite?
After Spain was demolished 3-0 by the Host Brazilians in the disastrous 2013 Confederations Cup Final, the debate opened wide as to who will take the Cup. Spain saw its possession-oriented tactics ripped apart by the goal scoring prowess of Brazil, and a future meeting with a fast-paced South American team may doom Spain to an earlier-than-expected return home to Madrid.

Belgian Dark Horse
Oftern overlooked due to intense star power in Europe, Belgium is the most underated team at this edition of the World Cup, making their first appearance in the tournament since 2002. With an aggressive midfield made up of Mauouane Fellaini, Kevin Mirallas and Eden Hazard, Belgium went undefeated in qualifying and stands in a relatively manageable Group H.  The Rode Duivels should see legitimate prospects of a deep run this summer.