Today marks the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. In a tournament that’s seen as Brazil’s to lose, what can be expected out of the United States? Can it survive a tough group?
U.S. CONCERNS: Landon Donovan, 32, is the most famous and iconic soccer player in U.S. history. He’s the team’s all-time leading scorer and has scored some well-remembered goals, from the second tally against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup Round of 16 game to the last-gasp goal against Algeria to save the United States at the 2010 World Cup.
But coach Jürgen Klinsmann didn’t pick him for this year’s World Cup, meaning those pressure goals will have to come from somebody else. Jozy Altidore must hope his two-goal return to form against Nigeria on Saturday brought him out of his scoring funk to help Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley.
BACK-LINE QUESTIONS: In a group featuring Ghana, Germany and Portugal, the U.S. must be strong in the back to have any hope.
This is also a rather inexperienced unit at the World Cup stage, so it’ll be interesting to see how the defense holds up under continued pressure against dangerous foes.
The United States is going to need top-flight goal keeper Tim Howard to be at his best.
GROUP PLAY: In just about any other group, the U.S. would be a legitimate contender to advance.
But with powerhouse Germany and Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal occupying two of the top four spots in the dubious-yet-often-cited FIFA rankings, USA won’t be expected to advance out of the “Group of Death.”
If the U.S. has any chance, it’ll have to beat Ghana – something it’s failed to do the past two World Cups.
The best-case scenario? Defeat Ghana and somehow, someway draw with Portugal. Then, an already-clinched Germany, backed by two prior wins, ho-hums to a result that is enough to send both the Germans and Americans to the knockout stages. Dreaming is allowed in the World Cup.
PREDICTIONS: The U.S. fails to reach the knockout stages while Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain reach the semifinals, with Brazil beating rival Argentina in the final.
Brazil’s Neymar is named the tournament’s best player and his hairstyle is unofficially picked as the World Cup’s best hair.