Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tough World Cup draw for United States, but so what?

The United States got a difficult group for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but it is the exactly the type of challenge the Americans should embrace.

Tough World Cup draw for United States, but so what?

U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann (center) will be under pressure to pull the United States out of a tough World Cup group stage draw. (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)
U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann (center) will be under pressure to pull the United States out of a tough World Cup group stage draw. (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

No, it isn’t the best draw the United States could have hoped for in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But it isn’t the worst either.

There is no question that the USA being placed in Group G with three-time world champion Germany, Portugal and Ghana is tough. Very tough.

Still, I don’t want to hear any whining from the United States Soccer Federation. I wouldn’t want to hear it even if Team USA had been slotted in the other so-called “Group of Death," Group D. It's got reigning champion Spain, three-time finalist Netherlands, Chile and Australia. Frankly, the Aussies are likely going to make a long trip around the world just to go 0-3.

This is a challenge the United States should embrace. The USA is always talking about wanting to take a huge step up on the International soccer hierarchy, and this is an opportunity to earn the worldwide respect it so desperately craves.

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No excuses.

No shying away.

It’s time for the USA to put on its big-boy shorts and go make something positive happen.

I loved what USA national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN when asked if the United States relished the role of being an underdog.

“No,” Klinsmann said. “We are no underdog. All of the 32 teams in the World Cup deserve to be here. There is no big nation that was let out this time.

“If you want to get into the Top 10 nations in the world, you eventually have to start beating those teams.”

The goal remains the same - advance out of Group play and then make some magic happen.

There is opportunity here.

The opening match against Ghana on June 16 will be the key to everything.

The Black Stars have been a thorn in the USA's side, winning what were elimination matches - either officially or practically - at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

But Ghana is the type of nation the United States is trying to separate itself from. The USA is ranked 14th in the current FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. Ghana is 24th.

The reality is that the United States’ knock-out stage fate could come down the second group match against Portugal on June 22.

The Portuguese are ranked 5th and have arguably the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo. But Portugal has a shaky history in major tournaments.

Portugal finished fourth at the 2006 World Cup - losing to Klinsmann’s Germany squad in the third place match. But they were eliminated by Spain in the Round of 16 at the 2010 Cup in South Africa.

Most famously, at the 2002 World Cup, Portugal’s “Golden Generation” team - a title favorite - opened group play by losing to the United States 3-2. Portugal did not advance to the knockout stage.

Ronaldo has scored just two goals in World Cups in his career, by the way.

The United States will be a heavy underdog in its final group match against second-ranked Germany. Klinsmann is bound to have heavy emotions in that match. He won the 1990 World Cup as a player with West Germany, and then managed unified Germany to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup.

The USA beat a somewhat diminished Germany squad 4-3 in a friendly on June 2. Germany beat the USA 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea.

“This is one of the more difficult groups in the whole competition,” Klinsmann said. “But that’s what a World Cup is about. We’ll take it. We’ll take the challenge.”

That’s the only way the United States should look at this 2014 World Cup Draw.

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