World Cup quarterfinalists in South Africa four years ago, Ghana will again grab the headlines in Brazil if they can wrestle a Group G qualifying spot from European heavyweights Germany or Portugal.
Ghana, cruelly eliminated in 2010 by Uruguay in a shootout after Luis Suarez’s infamous goalline handball and a subsequent missed penalty, are the form side from Africa but it is hard to look beyond the star-studded squads of Germany and Portugal as the ones to progress.
Germany begin as favourites to top the group thanks to a side whose defensive backbone is complimented by one of the most dynamic attacking forces in the tournament, with the likes of Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos orchestrating matches.
Germany also possess the top scorers from the previous two World Cups in Mueller and strikerMiroslav Klose, who is two goals away from becoming the World Cup’s all-time top scorer.
They kickoff their campaign against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Salvador on June 16, having won the last three encounters between the two sides and their opening match at every World Cup since 1990.
They then face Ghana on June 21 in Fortaleza, a side they have beaten in both their previous encounters, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States on June 26.
“When we switch on that turbo my team can do a lot of things. I am looking forward to the tournament,” Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters after thrashing Armenia 6-1 in their final World Cup warm-up last Friday.
The second qualifying spot is likely to go to Portugal, whose players and fans will be relieved to have seen their talisman Ronaldo back in training this week after suffering with tendonitis around his left knee and a thigh injury.
A fully fit and firing Ronaldo, or not, Ghana and the United States will hope the inconsistency that plagued Portugal in qualifying has not gone away, with unexplained lapses and a sometimes wasteful attack ultimately forcing them to arrive in Brazil via a 4-2 aggregate playoff win overSweden.
In Joao Moutinho, Portugal have another talented midfield maestro and possess a useful defence with the fiery duo of Pepe and Bruno Alves marshalling energetic fullbacks Joao Pereira andFabio Coentrao. They can be light up front, however, with centre forwards Helder Postiga andHugo Almeida less than clinical.
With talented forwards such as Asamoah Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng, Ghana have found goals much easier to come by.
Still haunted by missing out on becoming the first African country to reach the final four at a World Cup tournament four years ago, coach Kwesi Appiah has repeatedly said Ghana will make the semifinals this time around.
They begin with a June 16 match in Natal against the US, a side marshalled by midfield duoMichael Bradley and Jermaine Jones but one the Black Stars have beaten twice before.
The US clash with Germany on June 26 in Recife will be closely watched as Klinsmann takes on his homeland.
The prolific former striker was part of the West Germany team that won the World Cup in 1990, and Euro ’96 as a unified nation, and guided Germany to the World Cup semifinals as head coach in 2006.
His US side, making their seventh successive appearance in the finals, also have a handful of players of German background and Klinsmann has remained adamant his team have a decent chance of progressing in Brazil after a strong qualifying tournament.
“We’re excited about this, big time,” he said. “It’s a difficult draw but we’ll find a way to go through it.”
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