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Dustin George-Miller
Dustin George-Miller
Dustin George-Miller is a musician, father, husband and Goshen College staffer. A life-long soccer fan, he grew up playing footy in the Elkhart YMCA youth leagues, but didn't let a lack of things like "talent" or "ability" impact his love for the beautiful game.

In his spare time he writes about the successes and failures (mostly failures) of his beloved Tottenham Hotspur Football Club at Cartilage Free Captain [http://cartilagefreecaptain.sbnation.com], part of the SB Nation family of sports blogs.



World Cup 2014 Team Previews: Groups G and H

We finish our World Cup team previews one day before the tournament kicks off by examining the eight teams that make up groups G and H.


Posted on June 11, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.

Dustin George-Miller is a life-long soccer fan, a sports blogger and a Goshen College staffer. His community blog on The Elkhart Truth, The Corner Flag: World Cup 2014, will cover the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In the first stage of the World Cup, the 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four teams. Each team plays the other teams in its group once, accumulating three points for a win and one point for a draw. Once the round-robin is complete, the top two teams from each group advance to a knock-out tournament. We’ll finish our World Cup preview by taking a look at the final two groups and briefly examining the teams.

 

GROUP G
Germany • Portugal • USA • Ghana

When this group was drawn, most considered it the so-called “Group of Death.” There’s one in every World Cup – the stars align and place three or even four excellent teams together in a group from which only two will emerge. Truthfully, this year there are three very strong groups (Groups B & D are also very tough). However, this one has gotten the most attention, perhaps as much because of the potential narrative as the overall strength of the teams. Group G is a happy confluence of superstars, injured players, underdog sensibilities, local patriotism and narrative. There’s a movie waiting to be made here… though I’m not sure if any Americans will want to see it.

 

Germany (FIFA World Ranking - 2)
World Cup titles - 3 (1954, 1974, 1990)
Previously qualified: 2010 (third place)

Germany is one of the countries that is always in the mix for World Cup titles, and this year is no exception. Joachim Löw brings one of the deepest midfields of any country to Brazil this summer, and you have to think that for Germany anything less than a semi-final berth would be a disappointment. Germany boasts exceptional players like Julian Draxler, Per Mertesacker, Andre Schurrle, Tony Kroos, Lars Bender… and those are all players expected to be on Germany’s bench. Strangely, Löw only named one recognized striker to this German side — 36-year-old Miroslav Klose — but there are a number of players that can play up top or just behind the forward that should give Germany a highly flexible and adaptable attack. Fortunately for their opponents, the Germans are a bit beat up, with injuries to first team stalwarts Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer that have limited their play in the pre-cup warm-ups. This chink in the armor opens up opportunities to the rest of the teams in the group, though Germany should still have enough to finish top.

Players to watch: Although there aren’t many pure strikers on this German side, there are plenty of attacking options. Despite the recent injury to Marco Reus that knocked him out of the World Cup, the Germans have Thomas Müller, Meszut Özil, Tony Kroos and Mario Götze, all of whom can slot in effectively into Jogi Löw’s offense.

 

Portugal (FIFA World Ranking - 4)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (Round of 16)

It’s not hard to argue that this is Cristiano Ronaldo’s team. The 2013 Ballon d’Or winner (soccer’s Player of the Year), Ronaldo is a a scintillating presence on the field. The question for Portugal is whether his teammates have the quality to take Portugal to the next level. Portugal isn’t a superstar and a bunch of schlubs — this team has plenty of talent to go around. But considering the ease by which Ronaldo can put a team on his back and take over the game, it’s an open question as to whether Portugal can find ways to win when its best player has an off game. If the “supporting cast” doesn’t drop off and just let Ronaldo be Ronaldo, Portugal could not only make it out of this difficult group, but might also be a dark horse candidate to go deep into the knock-out rounds. Ironically, in this way Ronaldo is both Portugal’s best asset and perhaps its biggest weakness.

Players to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most exciting players in world football, and all eyes will (and should) be glued to him whenever he’s on the field. The real question is whether Portugal can get production out of players like striker Heider Postiga, and midfielders Joāo Moutinho, Raul Miereles and Nani.

 

United States of America (FIFA World Ranking - 13)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (Round of 16)

The good news is USA heads to the World Cup in Brazil with arguably their strongest team ever, a three match winning streak and a lot of confidence. The bad news is that it might not matter. USA will square off against three very good opponents in Germany, Portugal and Ghana, and it’s conceivable the team could play good football in all three matches and still come away with one point or even no points. Welcome to the Group of Death. That would be harsh on this American side, as Jurgen Klinsmann has put together a balanced side that no longer solely attempts to sit back and kick in the teeth of its opponents on the counter. Klinsmann has retooled his team lately to play more centrally-focused possession based football (more on that in a future article).

On paper this team looks like one that can compete with an injured Germany or Portugal, but soccer is fickle and capricious. USA will need at minimum four points to progress, which makes its opening match vs. Ghana a must-win. A draw or a loss in Natal means the Americans will need to beat, not just draw, either Portugal or Germany to have any hope of seeing the Round of 16. It’s a tall order, and the USA will need to play flawlessly on both ends of the pitch to do it.

Players to watch: With Landon Donovan’s shock omission (yes, we’ll talk about it later), the USA’s two best players are forward Clint Dempsey and attacking midfielder Michael Bradley. Both players need to put the rest of the team on their shoulders if they’re going to escape this group. Jozy Altidore is the USA’s most experienced striker, and he has come off an awful season with Sunderland in the EPL, but he scored two against Nigeria, which hopefully will boost his confidence. Defensively, not a single player returns from the 2010 World Cup squad; it will be up to Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler to anchor the USA’s defensive line and somehow deal with the likes of Ronaldo, Götze and Appiah. Good luck… they’ll need it.

 

Ghana (FIFA World Ranking - 37)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (quarterfinals)

It is in some ways fitting that the USA should be drawn into the same group as Ghana, as the Black Stars are responsible for knocking the Americans out of the last two World Cups, giving them that much more motivation. Ghana has been by far the most successful team from Africa based on past performances, which include that infamous quarterfinal match against Uruguay in 2010. This particular Ghanaian team has more experience than its surprise 2010 team, but hasn’t turned that experience into on-field improvement. Ghana has lots of talent that, in the right circumstances, could trouble any of the other three teams in the group, but thus far hasn’t shown what it’s capable of. Ghana’s goal is the same as the USA’s — win its first match against the Americans, hope to snatch a draw against Portugal or Germany, and pray for a little bit of luck.

Players to watch: Striker Asamoah Gyan is entering his third World Cup, and despite being playing (by choice) in a small league in the United Arab Emirates, he’s still top dog for Ghana. Watch out for young midfielder Christian Atsu, signed by Chelsea in the summer and sent on loan to Dutch development side Vitesse last season. Veteran midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng is a versatile utility man who can play many different positions in midfield and defense and will likely slot into wherever Ghana needs him the most.

 

FEARLESS FEARFUL PREDICTIONS: Despite the injuries, Germany’s still the class of this group. My heart says to pick the United States to advance, and I dearly hope the team will, but my head tells me that unless it plays out of its skins it has little hope of actually doing so. The USA must beat Ghana and get at least a draw against Portugal to have any chance, and the offensive attack of the two European sides is, I believe, simply too strong for this inexperienced American back line. I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Dustin’s (reluctant) picks: Germany and Portugal.

 


 

GROUP H
Belgium • Russia • South Korea • Algeria

The eighth and final group in this summer’s World Cup is intriguing. Belgium is the hipster’s pick to win the tournament based on the maturation of its current generation of players, but to this point, Belgium hasn’t really made many waves in international football. Behind the team waits Russia, which has a point to prove and is hoping to make a statement ahead of the 2018 cup (which Russia hosts); the perennially-underrated South Korea; and an Algeria team that is shaping up to be perhaps more than the sum of its parts.

 

Belgium (FIFA World Ranking - 11)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2002 (Round of 16)

Belgium is in the midst of a golden age of football talent. This “golden generation” of players, which dominated the Belgian youth leagues for years, has finally begin to mature over the past few years and is now starting to make its mark on the first team. This particular golden generation hasn’t yet established the gravitas of teams like Germany, Argentina or Spain, but what they lack in the “winning things” department they more than make up for in raw talent and fun. Expectations are high at this World Cup, but that’s perhaps because this Belgium team has somewhat flown under the radar up until now. The individual players — Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel, Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku, etc. — are all making waves at their respective club teams, to the point where if you’re a football club with aspirations towards European respectability, you might want to go out and get yourself a Belgian or two. Now the team just has to figure out how to play together and turn that individual potential into on-field results.

Players to watch: Belgium has fantastic attacking talent, but it’s the team’s goalkeeper who is unquestioningly the best player. Thibaut Courtois is commonly acknowledged as the best keeper in the world right now, and ironically he can’t even get a start on his own club team. Instead, Chelsea loaned Courtois to Atletico Madrid this season, with whom he won the Spanish league and came in second in the Champions League. Having a world-class man between the sticks makes defending a whole lot easier. Belgium usually plays with a sole striker, in this case human battering ram Romelu Lukaku (another Chelsea loanee), with three fluid attacking midfielders behind. The best of the lot is Eden Hazard (again, Chelsea, but he starts), who will start on the left side but frequently cut in or swap positions with the other mids.

 

Russia (FIFA World Ranking - 19
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2002 (group stage)

Russia is a country that, theoretically, should be a football powerhouse, but it’s been struggling in big matches and tournaments the past number of years despite a solid footballing history and a very good national league. This year’s team is managed by Fabio Capello, known to most as the former manager of England, and the Italian has begun what many hope is a new era in Russian football. This Russian squad is younger, more dynamic and hopefully luckier than the Russian teams of the recent past. The talent is certainly there; the will is what is now in question.

Players to watch: Russia’s scoring leader in qualifying is Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow), and he’ll be expected to shoulder the bulk of the scoring load in this World Cup if Russia hopes to advance. Alan Dzagoev is an attacking midfielder who will play in “the hole” behind the striker and to the right of Kokorin — his role will give him freedom to move around and hopefully either find openings or drag defenders out of position, creating chances for his teammates.

 

South Korea (FIFA World Ranking - 57)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (Round of 16)

For some reason South Korea seems to get overlooked by many in world football, but it shouldn’t be. This is a country that has qualified for the past eight World Cups, including a fourth place finish in 2002, the year it co-hosted the tournament with Japan. Korea is an experienced team that plays solid, technical football in a similar manner to Japan. This is a team that’s perhaps a bit suspect at the back but possesses a goodly amount of talent in midfield and attack. It also has the advantage of having played together for a while now. New coach Hong Myung-Bo captained South Korea to its fourth place finish in 2002, and he’s hoping some of that magic rubs off on his current squad. Don’t let that FIFA ranking of 57 fool you. South Korea has a decent chance of advancing from Group H.

Players to watch: The biggest name on South Korea’s roster that many followers of football will have heard of is Son Heung-Min, a tricky winger who plays his trade at Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga. Park Chu-Young has been playing in the second division of English football, but will likely be called upon to spearhead Korea’s attack.

 

Algeria (FIFA World Ranking - 22)
World Cup titles - 0
Previously qualified: 2010 (group stage)

Most Americans are most familiar with Algeria as “the country on which that Landon Donovan scored that goal in 2010.” You know. THAT goal. You’d also be forgiven if you don’t give Algeria much of a chance to escape its group this time either, mostly because you’d probably be right. Despite a well-balanced side, Algeria is looking at an early exit from the World Cup. But that doesn’t mean the team will go quietly. Algeria will look to punish teams that look past it. The 2010 Algerians were stingy at the back and hard to break down, and the Fennec Foxes will need to maintain a stodginess in the back to have a chance. Expect Algeria to sit back and counter against teams better than it is, and expect it to make the most of the chances it gets.

Player to watch: Sofiane Feghouli could’ve played for France and starred for the French U21 side, but opted to pledge his future to the country of his birth instead. Feghouli will play on the right side or behind the striker (known as the “#10 role”) and is the Fennec Foxes’ best chance for generating offense. Also keep an eye on 19-year-old midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, also Algerian born and French trained, who had a breakout season this year with club team Tottenham Hotspur.

 

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS: I like Belgium a lot, and not just because there are a number of Tottenham players on its roster. It’s a young, dynamic, exciting team full of players on top club teams in top leagues. Group H favors the team, but Belgium should be wary of complacency. Elsewhere, Russia doesn’t have the advantage of having played together for as long as the South Korean team has, but I think it should have enough quality to advance, if only barely. The team’s not particularly exciting, but I can see Algeria possibly springing an upset that could throw this whole group into chaos. Dustin’s predictions: Belgium and Russia.

Would you like to become one of The Elkhart Truth’s community bloggers? Get in touch with our community manager, Ann Elise Taylor, at ataylor@elkharttruth.com with a little information about yourself and what you’d like to blog about.


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