USMNT: A Look at the Enemy
With their first tune-up matches done and dusted, OTF’s Juan Santoliva gives some insight on the USMNT’s group G opponents…
Ghana vs Netherlands
The 1-0 score line on Saturday didn’t truly reflect the match played, as the mighty Dutch squandered chance after chance against a younger Ghana side that didn’t start big names such as: Kevin-Prince Boateng, Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, and Andre Ayew.
It took just five minutes for the Oranje to get on the scoreboard, thanks to a slip up from Ghanaian defender Jefferey Schlupp, who allowed skipper Robin van Persie an easy tap-in. From there on, the Black Stars were lucky to not be down by more, as Arjen Robben missed two glorious chances that could have had the Netherlands up 3-0 before the half.
Ghana’s goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey kept the Bayern Munich winger goal-less when he made himself big and denied Robben from his box. Kwarasey did it again and got down well to deny a struggling Robben on the stroke of half time.
Second half substitutions by coach Akwasi Appiah saw Ghana slightly improve, aggressively pressuring and breaking up the fluency of the Dutch, but still unable to get on the board.
The Netherlands was clearly the superior side in terms of possession and creating chances, and outshot Ghana 12-5. Overall though, it was a rather uninspiring performance by both sides, who looked bored and seemed content to just run around.
Injuries: The injury bug has been spreading like the Black Plague, with major World Cup contenders losing players due to serious knocks.
This nagging, dream-killing bug bit Ghana on Saturday, as Jerry Akaminko was taken off on a stretcher in the 90th minute. The center back landed awkwardly after he leaped in the air for a challenge and is out for the tournament.
Coach Appiah sadly said,” It’s (never) a pleasant thing to tell a player that he is not going to be in the squad for a tournament.” Indeed.
What’s Next? The Black Stars will look to get a ‘W’ under their belt in their last tune-up match against South Korea on Monday, June 9th at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Ghana will have one last chance to get it right in Florida before flying further south. I’m assuming we will see Appiah’s chosen 11 take the field in this one. With their big names back in the lineup, Ghana should have no real problem against South Korea.
The Black Stars are easily stronger, faster, and overall better than their final friendly opposition. Working on possession and smart decision-making will be emphasized leading up to the much-awaited rematch with the good ole’ Stars and Stripes.
Portugal vs Greece
I, and probably every soccer fan in the world, know that Portugal was dependant on Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a given. I just never knew how hopeless and dull La Selecão could truly be without their captain until I watched them last weekend.
A complete lack of creativity and passion saw what could have been a great tune-up match for both sides turn into a boring 0-0 snorefest.
With Madrid stars Ronaldo and Pepe out, along with “somewhat” stars Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho, coach Paulo Bento was forced to play two defensive midfielders, Miguel Veloso and William Carvalho.
Portugal had more possession on the ball and more shots, but Greece didn’t seem threatened. It became obvious that neither team was going to go in for the kill, as both were content to defend and wait for the final whistle to blow. Portugal finished with 16 shots compared to Greece’s four, but the hosts only had four shots on goal—a clear indication of their inability to penetrate the visitors’ very sound back line.
It was hard to take anything away from this game, as Portugal was missing some big names. Obviously, with Ronaldo on the field space will open up and opposing defenders will be forced to play out of position to help double-team him. Without Ronaldo on the team, all we’ll see is mediocrity.
Maybe Cristiano needs to have a talk with Nani…?
Injuries: Ronaldo watched from the sideline due to a nagging thigh injury. Pepe also sat out, as did Fenerbache midfielder Raul Meireles. These three are the core of the squad, and if they don’t get well soon the U.S.’s chances to advance out of Group G will brighten.
What’s next? Portugal arrives at Gillette Stadium to play against Mexico, that one lucky team that owes everything to San Zusi, on Friday, June 6.
Seeing Portugal still has one more tune-up match after this, I don’t think Bento will feel pressure to have Ronaldo, Pepe, and Merieles on the field. Yes, it’s important to get some minutes before a major tournament like the World Cup, but Ronaldo and Pepe are proven players and winners who will be just fine without the work.
Bento will likely focus on some “fringe” starters and give as much time as possible for his injured players to rest up and heal. I’m looking for a scrappy game with tons of goals, but with a Ronaldo-less Portugal side, I can’t be too hopeful.
Germany vs Cameroon
Another game, another dull opening 45 minutes. The difference? Both Germany and Cameroon caught fire in the closing 30 minutes, resulting in a 2-2 draw in Monchengladbach.
Samuel Eto’o, preparing for his fourth World Cup, gave Cameroon the lead in the 62nd. Germany got back into it quickly though, as Bayern Munich midfielder Thomas Muller headed in the equalizer. Five minutes later, Lukas Podolski broke free down the left side and played a great ball for substitute Andre Schurrle to tap in.
Germany seemed to have this one in the bag but Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who was born in Germany, found the back of the net for the African side to level the score.
The result left Coach Joachim Low with a few question marks, as poor defending led to two comfortable goals for the Africans. Scoring also seems to be a problem, with many missed opportunities.
Low stated, “It would have been good if we had used our early chances. We seem to need a lot of chances to score, that has been evident in recent months.”
Injuries: Germany played without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, captain Phillipp Lahm, and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who are all nursing injuries.
Left back Erik Durm made his debut, all due to another injured defender, Marcel Schmelzer. Miroslav Klose, who battled injuries all season for Lazio, did not feature in Sunday’s match.
The Germans have more than enough depth but will need huge contributions from all their injured players if they are going to make a deep run in Brazil.
What’s next? Germany should build some momentum and gain confidence in its final tune-up match on June 6 against lowly Armenia in Coface Arena, Mainz.
Low will want a full strength squad that will completely dominate from the moment they take the field to the final whistle. Perhaps, more importantly, he will want to see his Germans score.
The manager has already expressed his annoyance with missed chances, so expect Germany to fire on all cylinders from the outset. If this match isn’t a blowout in their favor, Germany may find itself desperately searching for answers.
Then, will it be too late before Portugal comes calling on June 16th?
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OTF’s Juan Santoliva will keep you updated on the latest matches, injuries and other shenanigans from the USMNT’s group opponents. Follow him @jsants90.