USA to play Germany, Portugal in WC

The United States will play Germany, Ghana and Portugal in the first round of next year’s World Cup, facing the nations that eliminated the Americans from the last three tournaments.

Germany eliminated the Americans in 2002, while Ghana sent the US men packing in the 2006 and 2010 editions. Making their seventh straight appearance at soccer’s showcase, the Americans were drawn Friday into Group G and will play Ghana in Natal on June 16. They will close group play against Germany on June 26 at Recife.

”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 United States group has the top average FIFA world ranking. The Americans will train at home from mid-May until early June and plan a series of exhibition games, which likely will include England as an opponent, before heading to Brazil.

”Everybody is saying that this is the `Group of Death’ and it’s such a hard challenge,” former American captain John Harkes said. ”I still think that the U.S. can rise to the occasion.”

”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.”

Roy Hodgson and his England squad were handed a tough draw in Salvador in Brazil on Friday, with a trip to the sweltering Amazon region first up on June 14. Following that clash with the Azzurri, England must take on top seeds Uruguay, featuring Liverpool star Luis Suarez, in Sao Paulo on 19 June before ending their group-stage challenge against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on 24 June.

Hosts Brazil will face Croatia in the opening game of the tournament in Sao Paulo on June 12. And in a replay of the 2010 final, Spain face the Netherlands in a Group B clash in Salvador the next day. Italy were the European team drawn at random to join Pot Two ahead of the main group-stage draw.

FIFA decided in advance of Friday’s ceremony that one of the nine unseeded European teams for next summer’s final would be put into the pot containing the unseeded South American and African countries. That meant Italy were guaranteed to face a seeded South American side – and were promptly placed with Uruguay in Group D.

With the pre-draw completed, the main draw commenced. Brazil were placed in Group A, with the other Pot 1 seeds allocated to groups B to H. The position of the other teams in the groups was then classified 2, 3 or 4 according to the random draw, determining the order of matches.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic

The Associated Press contributed to this report.