The U.S. drew a daunting task for next year’s World Cup: difficult opponents, tropical venues and a wearying 9,000-mile zigzag journey across Brazil.
The Americans wound up with the potentially punishing group they feared and will play Ghana, Portugal and Germany next June as they try to achieve a U.S. first: reaching the knockout phase twice in a row.
While Ghana eliminated the Americans in 2006 and 2010, the Black Stars won’t do it again. The U.S. opens its seventh straight World Cup appearance against Ghana on June 16 at Natal.
The U.S. meets Portugal and 2008 FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo six days later in the Amazon rain forest city Manaus. The Americans have just three off days to recover before closing Group G on June 26 in Recife against three-time champion Germany.
“I think we have the quality, if we play our best ball, to get out of the group,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said after Friday’s draw set the eight four-nation groups. “You can’t think about, ‘Am I the favorite? Am I the underdog? What’s it going to be like playing in the heat? What’s it going to be like with the travel?’ Those are factors that come into it, but at the end of the day both teams have to deal with it.”
After having the shortest group-play travel in South Africa, the U.S. will have the longest in Brazil. The Americans will be based in Sao Paulo and face trips of 1,436 miles to Natal, 1,832 miles to Manaus and 1,321 miles to Recife. They also will play all three matches in the tropics, with the second and third matches in the afternoon.
And the U.S. group has the top average FIFA world ranking.
“It’s definitely one of the tougher groups, if not the toughest, but at the same time, this is what the World Cup’s all about. You go there to play against the best,” American forward Jozy Altidore said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I think the boys will be excited, will be up for it.”