The USA begin their 2014 World Cup against a familiar foe when they take on Ghana in Natal on Monday (6pm EST, live on ESPN).
The two teams are the underdogs in Group G, which also features Portugal and three-time World Cup winners Germany. While a place in the knockout rounds is unlikely for either side, three points would give the winning team a fighting chance of causing an upset.
The USA come into the match on the back of three consecutive victories in their warm-up matches against Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria. The last-mentioned fixture was clearly intended to prepare them for Ghana and the takeaways were mostly positive.
The main plus point was Jozy Altidore’s double strike that ended his run of six consecutive international starts without scoring. Altidore endured a terrible season at club level with Sunderland and needed a goal or two to boost his confidence prior to the tournament. He has a key role to play as the strong central reference point up front.
Clint Dempsey (pictured), the team’s top scorer in qualifying, will play alongside Altidore but has a freer role, with license to drift across the attacking line in search of space. The success of the interplay between those two and attacking midfielder Michael Bradley – the national’s team best player – will play a key role in determining how well the United States do in Brazil.
Jurgen Klinsmann employed a diamond midfield in all three of the pre-tournament friendlies and by the Nigeria match it was clear that the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones were comfortable in their roles. In addition, the full-backs showed they have the requisite energy to provide the attacking width that the team would otherwise be lacking.
Timothy Chandler looks to be the only injury doubt for Klinsmann ahead of Monday’s match, with a leg injury limiting the defender’s participation in training over the last week.
Ghana come into the Group G opener on the back of an impressive 4-0 victory over South Korea in the second of their two warm-up fixtures, which followed a solid performance in a 1-0 defeat away to Netherlands in their first.
Kwesi Appiah retained his position as head coach despite losing to Burkino Faso in the semi-final of last year’s Africa Cup of Nations and led Ghana to Brazil with a resounding 7-3 aggregate victory over Egypt in the qualification playoffs. The 6-1 first leg victory was a thrilling display of quick and strong attacking football.
Generally, though, Ghana are a side who are most comfortable playing on the counter-attack. They lack a genuine playmaker, with their primary attacking threat coming from the pace of their wide players, who zip forward in support of lone striker Asamoah Gyan. The two flanking him on Monday are most likely to be the Ayew brothers: Andre and Jordan.
The Black Stars have a physically imposing midfield trio in Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng, while John Mensah and John Boye look to have struck up a solid partnership in the centre of defence. Kwadwo Asamoah, originally an attacking midfielder but usually a wing-back at club level, will provide forward thrust from the left full-back position.
Majeed Waris suffered a thigh injury in Ghana’s final pre-tournament friendly, but trained normally on Friday and will be pushing for a starting berth. Boateng also returned to training on Friday after missing some of the previous sessions. He is expected to be part of the first XI on Monday.
USA vs Ghana Betting & Picks Verdict
These two sides have met in each of the last two World Cups, with Ghana emerging victorious on both occasions. They defeated USA 2-1 during the group stage of 2006 and triumphed by the same scoreline, after extra-time, in the round of 16 in South Africa four years ago. Those are the only two previous meetings between them.
This is a difficult match to call because the teams appear relatively well-matched on paper. The current Ghana side looks less impressive than the one that reached the quarter finals in 2010, while the United States have improved marginally but have a squad that is low on tournament experience, featuring just six of their players from the last World Cup.
It will be a highly physical contest, with the midfield the primary battleground. Both teams are better on the counter-attack than they are when asked to take the initiative themselves and this is likely to produce a stop-start match, with plenty of turnovers and resultant tactical fouls.
Despite the fact that it would be far from ideal for either side, we believe a draw is the most likely result.