Group at a Glance: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States. We definitely have a contender for the Group of Death here. Three very tough teams, plus the United States who have shown that when on their game, they can in fact hang with the world’s best. There should be some barnburners in this group, but it’s also another example of how the current system is horribly flawed. When one group has four teams that are better than the seeded teams in some other groups, that’s a problem. However, if you’re grading on entertainment value, this is probably the group to watch. If there’s a common perceived weakness with these teams, it’s strength in defense, so you’re going to see lots of goals.
Favorites to Advance: Germany and Portugal. The obvious isn’t always the way it goes in World Cup soccer, but in this case, it is. Both squads are fielding world-class midfields and loads of big stage experience. And of the four rickety defenses, the US and Ghana are the most vulnerable.
Players to Watch: Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Nani. Who is looking forward to defending these guys? Yeah, I wouldn’t be either. Masterful, the first three, and occasionally so for Nani, the German and Portuguese midfields will be something to behold.
Homer Corner: The United States has its plusses. They have some experience in midfield, some talented players in the world’s top leagues, and a coach in Jurgen Klinsman who has the players’ belief and dedication. That said, there are too many question marks. The unproven Omar Gonzales and Clarence Goodson take over central defense from the dependable duo of Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit. Inexplicably, DaMarcus Beasley, who long ago sailed past the last port of international soccer relevance, is deemed to be the best option at left back. God only knows who replaces the criminally underrated Steve Cherundolo at right back. Geoff Cameron? Michael Parkhurst? Timothy Chandler? Eric Lichaj? It doesn’t appear to be a winning combo. Veteran Clint Dempsey provides some scoring punch up front, and if they move Landon Donovan to the wing, where he’s better suited, and pair Dempsey with Jozy Altidore at forward, they may score enough to edge a result over Ghana. But sadly, the group stage is where it will end for the stars and stripes in 2014.