Harding’s Hark - The Inside Story: Old Foes, New Faces
After a great deal of unnecessary preamble, the groups were finally drawn for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next summer (June 12 – July 13). Our Sports Editor Jonathan Harding reviews the situation from a MunichNow perspective.
After an unnecessary 45 minutes of what was labelled ‘Brazilian vibrancy on stage’ but was actually more like Tina Turner’s Brazilian equivalent singing awkwardly with Usher’s South American brother, the hugely anticipated draw was finally made.
For many teams, hope was reborn. For others, dreams were left in tatters before they even had a chance to breathe. First-timers Bosnia and Herzegovina believe that reaching the knock-out stages is a real possibility after finding themselves in Group F with Argentina, Iran and Nigeria. Perennial heartbreakers England came undone with their draw though. As a member of Group D, they will have to contend with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica for a chance to stay in the tournament.
And what about Germany? Labelled one of the pre-tournament European favourites along with reigning champions Spain, Joachim Loew’s men can only be pleased with their group. Ghana, the USA and Portugal are their opposition (Group G) and, although not the fated ‘Group of Death’ (an inappropriate headline that this year will surely be bestowed on Group B or D), it is certainly the ‘Group of Headlines’. Germany face the ever-improving USA, managed by former Germany manager and player Juergen Klinsmann. In Ghana there’s the much-hyped clash of the brothers, as Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich) will face his brother Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04). And finally, there’s Portugal - a team built around one of the finest players ever to play the game. Nevertheless, Cristiano Ronaldo voiced his desire to avoid Germany after securing qualification for the finals.
Germany are clear favourites to win the group. Their opening game against Portugal will be a real indication of how strong their challenge will be. Ghana won’t be expected to provide much resistance, and while the USA will be up for the challenge, especially with Klinsmann at the helm, a victory is still expected. Perhaps it is a bit rash to suggest that Germany must win the World Cup this year, but it certainly seems as though their time has come. Spain are still formidable but maybe in transition, Brazil are under pressure and Italy, well maybe let’s not talk about them.
Loew’s pre-tournament contract renewal, the stabilising of a defence that wobbled at times during qualification and a midfield with gratuitous amounts of quality, are all signs that success is ripe for Germany. Playing in different conditions will of course have its effect but if that is consider a handicap, then it is one that the majority of sides will be under. When facing the likes of Argentina or Brazil in particular, that handicap may be uneven but at that stage of the tournament, the drive to lift the looming trophy takes hold.
A fascinating statistical note, Bayern Munich are set to have 16 representatives at the World Cup in Brazil, seven of which are expected to be in the Germany squad: Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Mario Goetze, Jerome Boateng (all Germany), Dante (Brazil), Mario Mandzukic (Croatia), Javi Martinez, Thiago (both Spain), Arjen Robben (the Netherlands), Franck Ribery (France), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland), Daniel van Buyten (Belgium).
America’s steady improvement (after a patchy start) under Klinsmann had many labelling this group as the label that shall not be mentioned, and while that is perhaps a step too far, the USA certainly deserve more recognition. Soccer may not have the same traditional grounding as football, hockey, basketball or baseball, but it is a sport growing in popularity and the quality of the USA national team reflects that.
Names like Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have long been names to recognise and respect from the USA squad. But it is the rise of talents like Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore that have got people taking more notice, Germany included. The key will be how measured and calm the US can stay in the face of a Germany side prone to formidable counterattacks.
However, like many sides at the World Cup, the US will be one that endures a heavy flying schedule to accommodate their group games. Klinsmann and his boys will rack up nearly 9,000 miles and it does make you question why the selection of a base camp comes before the drawing of the groups. Humidity, trips to the jungle (the USA will play Portugal in
the Amazonian city of Manaus) and tough opponents - the USA will do well to get out of the group. Germany’s qualities are well known and although Portugal’s headlines will be about one player (and quite a player he is), their team is also not to be disregarded. Ghana will also not be straightforward - they have perhaps been the most consistent African side in recent years.
2013 has been the USA’s best calendar year in the team’s soccer history. Improvement in their team, the desire to ride the soccer wave in the US at the right time and perhaps the added incentive of a competitive game in the round of 16 (the winners of Group H, either Belgium or in what would be a mouth-watering match-up, Russia) may just help them spring a surprise or two. “To be the best, you have to beat the best,” and while this may be Germany’s motto, the USA certainly deserve the chance to face the best.