Generally speaking, finding yourself in the “Group of Death” isn’t a very lucky occurrence in the World Cup. However, karma being karma and all things regressing to some sort of mean, the United States Men’s National Team has been getting nothing but good news regarding their Group G opponents heading into their first match on June 16th against Ghana.
First, it was Ghanaian center back, Jerry Akaminko, who was carried off on a stretcher during a warm-up against The Netherlands last month. The Dutch promptly exploited the defender’s absence, creating an easy chance to go up 2-0, only to be botched by striker Jeremain Lens. Suffice it to say Akaminko’s presence should have deterred such an opportunity.
It’s no mystery the U.S. needs some help scoring goals, especially against Ghana — a team they need to beat — who have a surprisingly quality goalkeeper (Adam Kwarasey).
Speaking of goalies, German keeper Maneul Neuer has been held out of World Cup prelims due to a nagging shoulder injury. Though he’s expected to be fine in time for Brazil, it’s worth noting that he’ll be coming in cold.
Then there’s the recent news of Borussia Dortmund’s phenom attacking midfielder, Marco Reus, going down with a torn ligament in his ankle. The 25-year-old could be Germany’s best playmaker, as he notched 23 goals and 18 assists in Bundesliga and Champions League play this season. Given that the USMNT’s back line is far and away their biggest weakness, one less game-changing offensive player in the Group is a huge help (even if it just means one less goal scored against in a losing effort, that can be the difference in a tie decided by goal differential).
On top of those setbacks, Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee) and Philipp Lahm (ankle) are slowly recovering as well, which partly explains Germany’s unimpressive tie against Cameroon on May 31st.
Then there’s the best player on Earth, Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, who is suffering from a thigh injury AND left knee tendonitis. Even at 80% Ronaldo is a force, but his impact can be mitigated by an injury that keeps him from maintaining the near constant, full-frontal speed-assault that makes him so deadly. The fact that fellow dynamic attacker, Bruma, will be missing the competition entirely due to injury doesn’t bode well for Ronaldo’s chances of advancing, either.
The Portuguese will also be missing Atletico Madrid rightback, Silvio, which is absolutely huge because Portugal isn’t exactly known for its defensive prowess. All in all, the clouds are breaking for the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup, despite a horrible initial draw at the Group level, the light of the “Round of 16” is beginning to shine through.
OTHER GOOD SIGNS: Klinnsman’s team has won all three of their warm-up matches so far, with goals from Altidore (his first since December) and a magnificent chipped through ball from Michael Bradley that was expertly volleyed for a score by Fabian Johnson (promising news). They’ve also allowed only two goals.
For the Yanks, a little extra help from the injury bug could be just what the witch doctor ordered.