The Voice of America’s Penalty BOX was the venue for a lively World Cup discussion about Group G, widely regarded as The Group of Death, at the upcoming football extravaganza in Brazil.
I joined Andre Mendes, Joao Santarita and host Peter Clottey for the soccer chat, as we focused on the strengths and weaknesses of Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA.
On paper, Germany and Portugal, currently ranked #2 and #3 in the FIFA world rankings, are the favorites.
But as Joao warned early in our spirited analysis, there are upsets and surprises at the World Cup, including the 2002 competition, when the underdog USA surprised Portugal, 3-2, in its opening match in Suwon, South Korea.
The USA used that victory over Portugal 12 years ago as a springboard to the quarterfinals, the best World Cup showing ever by the Americans since they reached the semifinals at the inaugural 1930 FIFA World Cup in Uruguay.
Five days before the Americans upset the Portuguese, I was in the Seoul World Cup stadium
when Senegal stunned defending champion France, 1-0, on a goal by Papa Bouba Diop, in the tournament’s opening match.
Like the Americans, the Senegalese used that upset victory to build momentum for a surprising run to the quarterfinals.
Ghana also surprised many World Cup fans four years ago when it reached the quarterfinals before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Uruguay on penalty kicks (4-2) at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Black Stars of Ghana were led by Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
This time around, the Black Stars are guided by James Kwesi Appiah, an assistant under Rajevac at the 2010 World Cup, and now the first Ghanaian coach to lead the team to football’s premier event.
Appiah says he’s very proud to be the first indigenous coach to take Ghana to the World Cup.
He also realizes the Ghanaians might have a psychological advantage over the Americans, as the teams prepare to play each other June 16th in their opening World Cup match in Natal, Brazil.
Ghana has eliminated the USA from the past two World Cups – in the group stage at Germany 2006 and in the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010.
Appiah’s coaching counterpart for the USA, Juergen Klinsmann, starred for Germany at three World Cups, scoring a total of 11 goals on football’s greatest stage.
In addition, Klinsmann coached host Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
He compares the USA’s opening match against Ghana to a World Cup final, something he’s quite familiar with since he played in the 1990 championship game in Rome, where the then West Germany edged Argentina, 1-0, on a late penalty kick by Andreas Brehme.
Klinsmann knows it’s imperative to pick up three points and a victory against Ghana, because up next for both teams in The Group of Death are European powers Germany and Portugal.
Looking ahead to June 16th, Klinsmann says simply, “We must beat Ghana.”