WORLD CUP READY….. OR NOT
Ready or not, here comes the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil.
The U.S. team arrived yesterday, at an airport that is about one third operational, before needing a military, police and private security escort to safely check in at their hotel. It’s just the first of the logistical difficulties arriving teams will notice as they report for games in what may be less than ideal conditions, with the threat of transit strikes and incomplete facilities still looming. The Cameroon representation faced unique difficulties in getting it’s team to Brazil, the players claiming they were promised bonuses that never came and threatening not to get onto the plane until a loan was arranged to make those payments. But, otherwise uneventfully, the U.S team has arrived. The rest of their trip should seem simple by comparison.
Host Brazil has been almost unbeatable at home, and they’re the power index and betting line favorites to win the whole thing, but Argentina is a close second in the power rankings, an even closer second on the betting line. The U.S. doesn’t have to worry about either of those teams, not yet. All the U.S. team has to concern itself with now is group play, and finding a way to get at least a win and a draw in three group games against Ghana, next Monday, Germany and Portugal. The top two teams in each of the eight four team groups advance, the bottom two in each group make a quick trip home. Each of the three group games for the U.S. comes with interesting background.
For the Americans Ghana, 37th in the FIFA rankings is the most winnable game and the U.S. should be up for it. Ghana eliminated them the last two cups. Portugal is ranked ahead of the 13th ranked U.S. team in the FIFA standings, and, being the parent nation to Brazil, and the only other Portuquese speaking nation represented, they’ll be the crowd favorite for every game they play unless they play Brazil. Against Portugal the U.S. will definitely be the road team. But Portugal is trying to get back in sync with their top three players returning from injuries, their top player Christiano Ronaldo just having his first workout with the team on Saturday and he and their top defender, Pepe, haven’t been on the field together in over two months. Still, they, and Germany, number three in the power index and FIFA rankings, will put a lot of pressure on the U.S. backline of Geoff Cameron, the left back who will be expected to be the anchor, Fabian Johnson and Damarcus Beasley.
U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann is German and preparing his team for group play, knowing Germany awaits, gave him an extra incentive as he made a stunning move, cutting all time U.S. scoring leader Landon Donovan from the team while keeping the struggling Joze Altidore. Altidore lived up to Klinsmann’s faith in him with two goals in the “friendly” win over Nigeria. Feeling comfortable enough to cut Donovan demonstrates that Klinsmann likes his team’s makeup the way it is.
Maybe the most difficult part of what lays ahead for them is a 9,000 mile travel schedule for the first three games. But, hey, they’re in Brazil, they got to the hotel and they have six days to prepare for their first game. The hardest part may already be behind them.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.