Breaking Down the Potential World Cup Draws for the USMNT
Breaking Down the Potential Group Draws for the USMNT
On Friday, the United States Men’s National Team will learn its fate for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Early predictions have the USMNT landing in a variety of different “groups of death”, while only a few scenarios exist that would be considered favorable.
Now, the USMNT is no stranger to the dreaded group of death. In the 2006 World Cup, the team was grouped with powerhouse Italy, rising African nation Ghana and the unpredictable Czech Republic. They lost 3-0 to the Czechs, shockingly drew 1-1 with the Italians and left Germany with a 2-1 loss to the Ghanaians to finish dead last in the group.
In 2002 and 2010, the men had more favorable groups with only one traditional powerhouse in the group. In 2002, the men were paired with co-host South Korea, Portugal and Poland. Second place in the group was good enough to see them advance into the knockout stages. For 2010, England, Slovenia and Algeria were drawn as foes. A pair of draws against the first two teams meant the men needed a win against Algeria to advance. Cue the most memorable goal in recent USMNT history from Landon Donovan, and the men advanced to another knockout stage.
Unfortunately for this upcoming World Cup, chances of making another knockout round may be slim, depending on the draw. With a number of dangerous teams in pots 1, 2 and 4, the USMNT may face its toughest World Cup to date. Let’s take a look at a few potential groupings we might see on Friday.
Brazil, Netherlands, USA, Italy
First is the deadliest group possible for the USMNT. The way the pots are set up, the men could potentially get grouped with host nation and current Confederations Cup winner Brazil, 2010 World Cup runner-up Netherlands and 2006 World Cup winner Italy.
The USMNT is an all time 1-16-0 against Brazil in all competitions. With the Samba Kings hosting, a draw, let alone a win, is highly unlikely. Fresh off a disappointing 2012 UEFA European Championship, the Netherlands will be out to prove that its runner-up finish in 2010 was not a fluke. Loaded with talent and experience at forward and midfield, the Dutch would cause many problems for a USMNT defense that is still gelling together. Italy, most recently runners-up in the 2012 Euros, has a talented squad with a balance of youth and experience and makes for another difficult opponent for the Americans.
Finishing the group with two or three points would be a success for the USMNT. Advancing into the knockout stage, however, would send a huge statement to world soccer that the Americans have come to play.
Germany, Cote d'Ivoire, USA, Portugal
An alternate group of death could be the American’s fate. Germany, Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal are another potential set of deadly opponents the USMNT could face.
The Germans are considered one of the favorites to win the World Cup, and it’s easy to see why. They have world-class goalkeeper Manuel Neuer between the sticks, a veteran defensive line with the likes of Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker, an absolutely stacked midfield that could include veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger along with young starlets Julian Draxler and Mario Götze, and likely up and comer Max Kruse leading the line if Mario Gomez is unable to. Sure, the USMNT beat Germany in a friendly earlier this year, but that was nowhere near the first-team German squad that would be seen in Brazil.
Cote d’Ivoire boasts a veteran group of players that can be very dangerous for opponents. The brute strength coupled with blistering pace means Les Elephants are one team that could surprise many and make a deep run. Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo; I don’t think much more needs to be said about the potential danger they present.
While advancing in this group is possible, it’s almost a certainty Germany would finish atop the group with nine points. That leaves one slot for three very talented teams and were the USMNT unable to make it to the knockout stage, it wouldn’t be too much of a shock.
Spain, Chile, USA, England
The last potential group of death we’ll look at includes the reigning champs of the last World Cup and Euro, Spain. Joining them could be rising South American powerhouse Chile and the Americans' favorite European foe, England.
Not much has to be said about La Furia Roja that isn’t already common knowledge. Easily the most dominant team in world soccer for the past few years, Spain will be looking to add another World Cup trophy to its collection. With aging stars like Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and David Villa likely featuring in their final World Cup, they’ll be looking to send the legends out on a good note.
Chile is a team the USMNT hasn’t faced in its currently form. Starlets Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla are all players than can change the outcome of a match in an instant. Now for England, a team we’re all familiar with. The Three Lions always seem to give the USMNT a great challenge. Couple that with constant disappointment in every major competition since 1966, and the English will be out to quash the doubters.
Advancing from this group would be impressive because, like in the previous slide, Spain is almost a shoo-in to advance atop the group. Chile and England will be difficult to beat, but the USMNT has the talent to do so. Again, failure to advance should not be seen as a bad thing, as long as they compete well in all three matches.
Belgium, Ghana, USA, France
Next up is a potentially difficult group, but not quite worthy of the label “group of death”. Rising European powerhouse Belgium, the American’s kryptonite Ghana and traditional power France are another set of foes the USMNT could be paired with.
Belgium is arguably the most improved team over the past couple years, and it’s easy to see why. Thibaut Courtois, one of the best young goalies in the world, commands the goal. Veterans Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany hold down the back line. Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and Mousa Dembélé form a midfield that would rival that of Germany and Spain’s. Add in young stars Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke and Zakaria Bakkali and you’ve got a team with the ability to not only make it out of the group stage, but to win the whole thing. Last time the USMNT played Belgium was a friendly in May, where the Belgians comfortably won 4-2.
Ghana has knocked the USMNT out of the last two World Cup’s by the same score line, 2-1. In 2006, the Black Stars crushed the USA’s hopes of advancing out of the group in the final match. The two met in the knockout stage in 2010 and in extra time, the Black Stars again emerged victorious. It’s safe to say Ghana is one team the USMNT will be looking to avoid, but then again, why not get them early in the draw and put and end to the nightmare they always seem to cause?
France is a team that is highly unpredictable. They’ve got the talent to compete deep into the World Cup stages, but needed a heroic second leg comeback against the Ukraine to even make it to Brazil. After an embarrassing 2010 World Cup showing, Les Bleus will want to avoid a disastrous outing again.
It may not be the traditional group of death as seen in the previous slides, but this draw could be just as dangerous if not more for the USMNT. Advancing out of this group would send just as much of a statement as advancing from the true group of death in the first slide.
Argentina, Nigeria, USA, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Another difficult draw could see the USMNT face Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Argentina boasts the deadly striking trio of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi while adding Nicolas Gaitan, Erik Lamela and Angel di María in the midfield. The only apparent weakness the Argentinians have had is in defense, which is something that can easily be exploited.
The Super Eagles will be looking to build off their 2013 African Cup of Nations win and carry that momentum over to Brazil. The powerful Emmanuel Emenike and the speedy Victor Moses will cause defenses trouble and should allow Nigeria to compete well with the other nations.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the teams that will be out to prove a point in Brazil. Competing in their first World Cup, the Golden Lilies will hope big man Edin Dzeko, the creative Miralem Pjanic and stalwart goalkeeper Asmir Begovic can carry them into a surprise knockout stage appearance. The USMNT faced the Golden Lilies in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina earlier this year and came away victors by a 4-3 margin.
This is a group that the USMNT should advance out of, while gaining the experience of playing top teams. All three games would be winnable and would give the USMNT a proper warm-up before facing the traditional powerhouses in the knockout stage.
Switzerland, Algeria, USA, Greece
Finally, a favorable draw for the USMNT! This is what appears to be the easiest possible route for the men to reach the knockout stages. Pairings with Switzerland, Algeria and Greece should see the Americans finish top of the group with nine points.
The Swiss are a surprise in pot 1 and will be the one team everyone in pots 2, 3 and 4 will be salivating over to be paired with. Xherdan Shaqiri, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Johan Djourou are names that may sound familiar, but outside of them, the Swiss don’t really boast anyone of note.
Flashbacks of the 2010 World Cup and Donovan’s heroic goal likely will arise if the Algerians are added to the group. Qualifying via the playoffs, the Foxes will realistically be looking to do nothing more than pull off an upset or two. Advancing past the group stage would be quite an achievement were they to pull it off.
Then there’s Greece. Scoring a mere 12 goals in 10 games of qualifying, the Greeks made it to Brazil riding their outstanding defensive record of only allowing four goals. Known to play basic defend-and-counter soccer, a matchup with the Greeks would be very much in the USMNT’s favor.
Anything short of nine points from this group would be disappointing from the Americans. That being said, while an almost guaranteed spot in the knockout stages would be nice, none of these teams would test the USMNT, thus not adequately preparing them to face the powerhouses that would lie ahead.