The Group of Death kicks off on the fifth day of the tournament. Sandwiched in between is the group F match between Nigeria and Iran.
Match: Germany vs. Portugal in Salvador
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Neither team played a high profile European team this calendar year.
What to watch for: This is one of the most highly anticipated matches of the group stage. Germany was one of the best teams at the 2010 World Cup before bowing out against Spain in the semifinals. German coach Joachim Low will have a lot of lineup decisions to make. He has a deep roster to pick from especially in the midfield. Low could play without a striker if he doesn’t trust veteran striker Miroslav Klose. Portugal has many of the same players from the last few tournaments. Their roster is highlighted by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Players to watch: Phillip Lahm is one of the best right backs in the world. However, the Bayern Munich player was used as a holding midfielder this season. Low has hinted he will be used in that role again. It will be interesting to watch how Lahm is used. Portugal relies on Ronaldo and everyone on the pitch knows that. On his opposite flank, Nani will likely get the start. Nani had a very disappointing season at Manchester United but can redeem himself in this game.
Prediction: Germany 3 (Ozil, Mueller, Kross), Portugal 1 (Meireles)
Match: Iran vs. Nigeria in Curitiba
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Iran played Angola to a 1-1 draw in one of three friendlies they played in Austria. They arrived early in Brazil to play Trinidad and Tobago and won 2-0 in Sao Paulo. Nigeria didn’t play a country that qualifies in Asia before the World Cup.
What to watch for: This might not be the most exciting game of the World Cup but every match is worth watching in this tournament. Iran plays a very defensive system under coach Carlos Queiroz. Nigeria won the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
Players to watch: Iran midfielder Steven Beitashour defender is the first American-born player to play for Iran. Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel will play in a more advanced role than he does at Chelsea.
Prediction: Iran 1 (Dejagah), Nigeria 1 (Moses)
Match: Ghana vs. United States in Natal
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Ghana didn’t play a CONCACAF team before the World Cup. They did play in usually hot Miami and defeated South Korea 4-0. Natal is hot because it’s by the equator. The United States defeated Nigeria 2-1 in Jacksonville on June 7.
What to watch for: The USA will be looking for revenge in this match over the team that eliminated them from the last two World Cups. Ghana has become one of the best teams in Africa and were so close to becoming the first African team to make the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan were the two players who scored against the USA in 2010. They will be part of the starting lineup and the greatest threat to the United States back line. The USA might use a diamond midfield in the World Cup. This means Michael Bradley would play in an attacking role behind a the striker partnership of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
Players to watch: Kevin Asamoah isn’t a natural left fullback but it looks like he will start in that position in this match. He provides Ghana with another creative player going forward. He could also leave Ghana exposed because he isn’t a true defender. Bradley is the USA’s most important player but it’s Jozy Altidore that will need to score. He had a disastrous season for Sunderland but maybe gained some confidence with his two-goal outing against Nigeria
Prediction: Ghana 1 (Gyan), United States 1 (Altidore)