FIFA World Cup 2014: Group G Preview - Germany, Portugal favourites

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FIFA World Cup 2014: Group G Preview - Germany, Portugal favourites
Rio de Janeiro, June 4: Group G of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is one of two pools, along with B, where all the four teams have played in the last edition in South Africa.

FIFA World Cup 2014 Schedule; Previews: Group A; Group B; Group C; Group D; Group E; Group F; Group HTournament Guide; Squads

The group comprises three-time champions Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the US. Germany and Portugal are the clear favourites and are expected to ease into the Round of 16 but four-time Africa Cup of Nations champions Ghana and the US are not going to make things easy for them.

Seven-time finalists Germany will once again be led by manager Joachim Loew, who has zeroed in on a fluid 4-2-3-1 combination. With wingers Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira providing the fluidity in the midfield, they will look to provide the perfect assistance Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus and Thomas Muller need ahead of them.

With a starry field like Julian Draxler, Matthias Ginter, Mario Gotze, Christoph Kramer, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil, Lukas Podolski, Marco Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Loew has a happy yet difficult problem to select the five playing in the midfield.

Loew is taking only one striker to Brazil, the veteran Miroslav Klose who is just one goal away from Ronaldo's all-time World Cup record of 15.

The Germans will be led by right back Philipp Lahm, who has been hailed as "the most intelligent player I've ever coached" by Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola.

The three-time European champions have had one of the most consistent teams in world football in the last decade, having reached the final of the 2002 World Cup and finishing third in the 2006 and the 2010. They also finished runners-up at the 2008 Euro and ended third in 2012.

Though World No.2 Germany look a complete side, the current team looks to have a weaker defence than they have had in the previous years. Recently, they conceded seven goals in two qualifiers against Sweden. But they are in top form, having won nine of their 10 qualifying matches.

World No.3 Portugal are also expected to qualify for the knockouts, being led by superstar and Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo. With the likes of Real Madrid star Pepe and Joao Moutinho they will be a force to reckon with.

However, without a top class striker, the burden of scoring will fall heavily on Ronaldo. Another significant question will be - can Ronaldo bring his club form to Brazil?

Paul Bento's side, which qualified through the play-offs, have performed well recently too, having reached the 2012 Euro semifinals.

After reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in 2010, hopes will be high for Ghana. The Black Stars surprised one and all when they reached the Round of 16 in their first appearance in 2006 and went a step better by reaching the last eight in South Africa.

This time around, their countrymen will be hoping the four-time Africa Cup of Nations winners can go better. But pitted against two of Europe's top teams, it will be extremely tough this time to even cross the group stage.

Ghana are in good form, having qualified with five wins out of six matches and also ending as the top scorer in the African qualifying with 25 goals. The team is full of experience and talent and the return of AC Milan midfielder Michael Essien will be crucial for the team.

Coach and former Ghana captain James Kwesi Appiah knows the team well, having spent four years as assistant with the national side before his promotion and is the first Ghanaian to lead his nation at a World Cup.

Lastly, the United States will also find it tough to cross the European hurdle. The Americans achieved their best World Cup performance in the first edition in 1930 when they finished third. Though they qualified for every edition since 1990, they have simply lacked the class to make to the end of the tournament with their best coming in 2002 when they made the quarters.

Playing their seventh cup in succession, Jurgen Klinsmann's men have to upset either Portugal or Germany to have any hopes of proceeding further. Their defence is a concern having allowed several teams to score against them in the qualifiers.

With eight goals in qualifying and 36 in 103 caps, captain Clint Dempsey will lead the attack in the absence of record goal-scorer Landon Donovan, who was dropped. Dempsey will hope he shows the form he displayed in the Premier League with Fulham and Tottenham.

A top win also goes to Klinsmann's credit, who led the team to defeat his native Germany recently. Though Germany was a depleted side, yet a win is a win. A record-breaking 12-game winning streak in 2013 and a national record of 16 wins in the same year will give them confidence to take on top teams.

The group action starts June 16 with the long-awaited clash between World No.2 Germany and World No.3 Portugal at the Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, and ends at the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasília, when Portugal face Ghana June 26.

IANS

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