It’s been 20 years since the U.S. hosted the World Cup, a cycle that’s seen the dramatic awakening of American soccer. The rise of the MLS, along with a generation of American stars who earned cred overseas, has moved the game forward.
So as the 2014 FIFA World Cup returns to the Americas, the U.S. National Team looks to the next gen after leaving arguably the greatest player of the era – three-time World Cup veteran Landon Donovan, 32 – off its roster. The U.S. heads to host nation Brazil, where the month-long soccer fest kicks off June 12.
The 20th World Cup may be nothing more than a replay. Five-time champion Brazil is a 3/1 odds-on favorite to win on its home turf, according to Antigua-based Sportsbook.ag. Who else could reach the final July 13 at Rio De Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium? Argentina (4/1 odds), Germany (5/1) and defending champion Spain (13/2) are also considered threats. The top two finishers in each of eight groups advance to the knockout stage. As Team USA (160/1) will find out, a team’s fortunes will depend less upon international standing as how it matches up within its group.
Group G ~ The Group of Death: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USADespite rising to become the dominant player in CONCACAF, the U.S. has dim hopes in Brazil because of its draw in the aptly nicknamed “Group of Death.” Group G features Germany (second in FIFA’s World Ranking), Portugal (third), the U.S. (14th) and Ghana (38th). Just remember it was Ghana who knocked out the Americans in the Round of 16 in 2010.
The U.S., making its 10th appearance and seventh in a row since 1990, is 7-17 with 5 draws all-time at the World Cup and has been outscored by a combined 24 goals. Brazil, by contrast, is 67-15-15 all-time. Three of those trips saw the U.S. emerge from its group, highlighted by a thrilling run to the quarterfinals and eighth-place finish in 2002. New Jersey-born veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard, 35, who U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann recently called “top five in the world,” will be the key in Brazil. Phenom Julian Green, an 18-year-old midfielder with German roots, is a speedy goal-scorer and the newest face on an otherwise veteran American roster featuring the likes of forward Clint Dempsey and midfielder Michael Bradley.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who earned the European Golden Shoe as the top scorer in 2014, is one of the most gifted scorers of his generation and powers Portugal. Germany has seen several top players nurse injuries in the lead up to Brazil, including veteran Miroslav Klose, the top goal-scorer at the 2006 World Cup and the only player to score four times at three different World Cups. Teammate Marco Reus has the ability to carry Germany to the semis for the fourth straight Cup.
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FIFA World Cup Groups
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, CameroonFC Barcelona forward Neymar, who led Brazil to the 2013 Confederations Cup title over Spain, gives the host country a pure scorer. It should be enough to lift Brazil past Cameroon, Croatia (20th) and Mexico (19th) in Group A. History is telling: Mexico, led by speedy Manchester United forward Javier Hernández, has made it to the Round of 16 in the last five Cups.
Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile, AustraliaFC Barcelona midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta powered Spain to the 2010 World Cup championship. This roster is loaded. The Netherlands, 2010 runner-up and currently ranked 15th, has Robin Van Persie, the 10th highest scorer in Premier League history. Chile (Round of 16 in 2010) and Australia round out Group B.
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, JapanRanked fifth in the world, Colombia’s fortunes depend on how well scorer Radamel Falcao bounces back from January knee surgery. Falcao pulled out June 2. Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure gives Ivory Coast an all-around star. Greece and Japan (poor showing at 2013 Confederations Cup) look like also-rans in Group C.
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, ItalyAt 35, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, the hero of Italy’s 2006 World Cup title run, returns for one more shot. No. 9 Italy may be older, but sixth-rated Uruguay’s hopes were dealt a blow when Luis Suárez, a Liverpool striker, underwent knee surgery in May. After quarterfinal appearance in 2002 and ’06, England flamed out in the Round of 16 in 2010. Wayne Rooney, the third-highest scorer in Manchester United history, leads England. Costa Rica rounds out Group D.
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, HondurasDon’t be shocked at an upset here. France features veteran Franck Ribery, who led Les Bleus to the 2006 final. Eighth-ranked Switzerland is short on players with international goals. Ecuador and Honduras, on an upswing, may surprise in Group E.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, NigeriaLionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, makes Argentina (seventh ranked) the top threat to upset Brazil. Sergio Aguero, once married to World Cup idol Diego Maradona’s daughter, is also in his prime. Bosnia and Herzegovina (25th) has the potential to edge out Iran and Nigeria in Group F.
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South KoreaAfter missing the last two World Cups, look for No. 12 Belgium to return to form. It made it to the Round of 16 five times between 1982-2002. But young scorers will have to produce. Aleksandr Kerzhakov is the most experienced goal scorer for Russia, which will host the 2018 World Cup. Algeria (ranked 25th) and South Korea (a semifinalist in 2002) round out Group H. Watch for Park Chu-Young, who has international experience in big spots.
Who do you think will make it to the finals? Add your comments below.
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