Germany are my favourites for this tournament. Quite simply because they have quality in every area. A world-class goalkeeper, solid in defence, creative in midfield and and clinical in attack. They are the most successful European nation (though they’ve won one less World Cup than Italy) and nobody ever likes facing the Germans – except for in Euro 2000!
Again, they will be strong and for me, the strongest of the lot. However, they haven’t won a tournament since in England in 1996, which is the longest gap since that unmentionable six-year event at the turn of the 1940s…Coach Joachim (Yogi) Loew has been a breath of fresh air since he took charge of the national team and the decision to field a lot of young talent in South Africa four years ago and they took their opportunities with both hands. They put four total past both England and Argentina and were only undone by the eventual winners, Spain, in the semi-finals with Carlos Puyol an unlikely sole scorer.
They have that experience, though and players like Mesut Ozil, Andres Schurrle, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Mario Gotze, coupled with the experience of Bastien Schweinsteiger, captain Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira will ensure that Die Mannschaft will control the game from the middle of the park. Only one striker in the squad means that the midfield will be packed and expected to support the lone man up top, Miroslav Klose. Klose may be 37 three days before the final, but he is looking for more than one celebration. The Lazio man is joint-second on the all-time World Cup scorers list with fellow German, Gerd Muller, on 14 goals. Brazilian Ronaldo leads the way with 15 and he will be desperate to reach that target. Should Germany still be in the tournament when Klose turns a year older – which I fancy they will – then he will be having more than just cake.
Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to spoil the Germany party in the very first game in this group. CR7 has been in blistering form through the last few seasons and is on an even keel with Lionel Messi in the race for the title of World’s best player, which he cemented with his Ballon d’Or win in December 2013. But it hasn’t happened at international level in tournaments for Ronaldo or Portugal. They’ve won just once in their last seven World Cup final matches and their vastly experienced squad will be looking to put that right. Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida may be in their 30s, now but they provide excellent support to the heavy weight on Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoulders.
His Real Madrid team-mates, part of the Champions League-winning side in May, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao perform well in defence and the talented Joao Moutinho of Monaco, William Carvalho of Sporting and Miguel Veloso of Dynamo Kiev will be the regulars in midfield. So you can see that the Germans won’t have everything their own way in this section. Portugal should finish second in a tricky group, but I see their chances of progression being derailed by either Belgium or Argentina in the knockout stages.
We again come to another of the African sides, in Ghana and after a controversial exit on their home continent in 2010, they will be looking to show that their journey to the quarter-finals on that occasion, was no fluke. In all honesty, they have what arguably looks like a better squad on paper. Kwadwo Asamoah is the star man and the left-sided Juventus man will be looking to show the world what Serie A experienced in the Turin side’s title win, last season. He will have Marseille man Andre Ayew in competition on that side of the pitch, with Ayew’s brother – who has since moved on to Sochaux battling for a starting place up front with Majeed Waris and the man who missed the crucial penalty at the end of the ill-fated match against Uruguay four years ago.
Another to be watched in the Ghanian squad is the Chelsea youngster Christian Atsu; on-loan at Dutch Eredivisie side, Vitesse Arnhem. There’s the familiar faces of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien in midfield and they will be providing Ghana with the experience and tenacity required to try and guide the Black Stars through the group phase. How far they can go in the competition may be decided by what they can do in their opening game against the USA on Tuesday 17 June. My guess is that while they may win that clash and also cause problems for the other two sides in the group, they will ultimately bow out after their guaranteed three matches.
The same fate pretty much befits the USA. Although they sit at number 14 in the FIFA world rankings, they have many recognisable faces in the squad to watchers of the English game. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore will almost certainly lead the line up front, with Michael Bradley of Roma in centre-midfield and while at the other end of the pitch, Stoke’s Geoff Cameron should start at right-back and Tim Howard and Brad Guzan will battle for the number one spot. While there is a bit of youth and freshness in Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad, not least with the name of Bayern Munchen’s teenage left-winger Julian Green, who is exciting and direct and the new talents of 21-year-old centre-back John Anthony Brooks from Hertha Berlin, they don’t look to be a side which will prove to be daring and adventurous.
I stand to be corrected, of course, but don’t expect any trees to be pulled up by the Stars and Stripes. Full-back Fabian Johnson may prove to be a hit, though and the Hoffenheim man could be the target for a few Premier League clubs and available for less than £5m.
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