Call it theÂ Group of DeathÂ if you want, but afterGhana tripped up Germany in Fortaleza, Group G at this yearâ€™s World Cup is all about opportunity.
Four teams, all vulnerable in their own way, areÂ challengingÂ our notions of order and predictability,Â bringing some welcome uncertainty to what some saw as a top-heavy group:
- Germany is the best team on paper, but although they controlled more of the ball on Saturday, Ghana were just as good.
- Yet that Ghana team fell to a U.S. side that didnâ€™t concedeÂ the opportunities they saw against the Germans. Though the Black Stars eventually found a way, they also gave up two goalsÂ en route to a 2-1 loss.
- And that U.S. team that looked so solid against Ghana? Unfortunately, the wasnâ€™t much more than that organized approach. Can the team generate enough chances to force their way into the knockout round?
- And Portugal? Who knows, but their toughest game may be behind them, and inÂ Cristiano Ronaldo, they still have one of the two best players in the world. They may collapse under the absences of Pepe, Fabio CoentrÃ£o, and Rui Patricio, but they also have the talent to take six points in their final games.
Thatâ€™s the chaotic state of Group G after todayâ€™s match in Fortaleza. Hereâ€™s three other takeaways from the 2-2 result:
1. The gap is smaller than we thoughtÂ - Germany were the clear group favorites â€” theyÂ areÂ the clear group favorites â€” but as weâ€™ve been reminded throughout Brazil 2014, the gap between the titans and the pack just isnâ€™t that big. Perhaps thatâ€™s because of theÂ increasingly demanding European season. Maybe itâ€™s the challengesÂ of a tournament in a large country with varying climates. Regardless, huge pre-tournament favorites like Argentina, Brazil, and Spain have been proven flawed, if not outright overrated.
Today, Germany joined that group, but the credit needs to go to Ghana. In the first half, we saw what the potential of that German attack, but a seriesÂ of strong plays from defenderÂ John BoyeÂ helped keep the favorites off the board. As bad as Boye was against the U.S., he was that valuable on Saturday.
BoyeÂ wasnâ€™t the only player who stepped up. AndrÃ© Ayew won a one-on-one battle with Shkodran Mustafi on Ghanaâ€™s opening goal, while a great play from Sulley Muntari allowed the Milan midfielder to create a turnover and set upÂ Asamoah Gyanâ€˜s 63rd minuteÂ finish. Late in the match,Â Jonathan MensahÂ andÂ Kwadwo AsamoahÂ made penalty boxÂ stops as Germany fought through their fatigue andÂ pressed for a winner.
Germany played well on Saturday, but so did Ghana. The gap between the two teams was just smaller than we thought.
2. LÃ¶wâ€™s fullback lamentÂ -Â Germany has attacking talent that rivals any nation in the world, but theyâ€™ve slowing become the European Argentina. For all the danger theyÂ poseÂ going forward, there are serious questions at the back, where the national team remains vulnerable.
Particularly withÂ Philipp LahmÂ playing in the middle, those problems are at full back.Â Jerome Boateng, more comfortable in central defense, started at right back. Benedikt HÃ¶wedes, more comfortable in central defense, started at left back. When Joachim LÃ¶w made a change at half time, bringing in Shkodran Mustafi for Boateng at halftime, it cost him. The Lazio defender was beaten for Ghanaâ€™s first goal.
LÃ¶w has often lamented his lack of options at full back, but he has alternatives. WithÂ Bastian SchweinsteigerÂ an option in the middle, perhaps Lahm can be moved back to his natural position.
Or maybe defense is just a flawÂ the Germans have to overcome. Regardless, as Ghana showed throughout Saturdayâ€™s 90 minutes, LÃ¶wâ€™s team remains vulnerable at the back, making it even more important they maintain control of the ball.
3. It wasnâ€™t ideal, but things are still breaking nicely for the U.S. -Â A Germany win could have dealt Ghana a mortal blow, but things continue to look up for the U.S. With a win tomorrow, they secure a place in the knockout round.
That fate would have been the same with a Germany win, however, so how does todayâ€™s draw change the Statesâ€™ picture? Ghana, now capable of getting to four points, willÂ be alive on Thursday, no matter what. Plus, Germany has something to play for against the U.S. Thereâ€™s no scenario that puts the Germans through before they kick off in Recife.
The upside for the States? They have a viable route to claiming first in Group G. Two points will put them into the knockout round, but four points win the group. Instead of Belgium in the round of 16, the U.S. could face Algeria, Russia, or South Korea â€¦
â€¦ provided they get there at all. As todayâ€™s result in Fortaleza reminds us,Â nothingâ€™s guaranteed in this yearâ€™s World Cup.