US drawn vs Ghana, Portugal, Germany at World Cup

If the U.S. reaches the second round of next year’s World Cup,

it would be quite an accomplishment.

The Americans wound up with the potentially punishing group they

feared and will play Ghana, Portugal and Germany in June during a

9,000-mile zigzag journey across Brazil.

”It’s going to be difficult for them to advance, but not

impossible,” former U.S. coach Steve Sampson said.

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 will play all three games in

the tropics, with the second and third matches in the

afternoon.

”I think guys who have played in MLS are used to taking

3,000-mile trips across the country to play,” midfielder Sacha

Kljestan said.

The U.S. group has the best average FIFA world ranking. Odds on

the Americans winning their first World Cup more than doubled after

the draw, from 60-1 to 150-1.

”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 during a telephone interview with The Associated

Press. ”I think the boys will be excited, will be up for it.”

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who replaced Bob Bradley 2 1/2

years ago, played for Germany’s 1990 World Cup championship team

and coached his native country to third place at home in the 2006

tournament, commuting to Europe from his California house in Orange

County.

”It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger,” he said at

the draw in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil. ”It’s a real challenge. And

we’ll take it. We’ll take it on, and hopefully we’re going to

surprise some people there.”

The U.S. and South Korea were the last remaining teams in draw

pot three. While the Americans landed in a group with an average

FIFA ranking of 11.25, South Korea wound up in Group H, creating a

group with the poorest average at 28.25.

”I think the team’s mentality is that we can go and play with

anybody,” American defender Matt Besler said. ”Now we’re going to

have to prove it.”

Germany beat the U.S. 2-0 in its 1998 World Cup opener in Paris

– with Klinsmann setting up the first goal and scoring the second –

then edged the Americans 1-0 on a controversial goal in the 2002

quarterfinal in South Korea.

Die Mannschaft is coached by Klinsmann’s former assistant,

Joachim Loew. The Americans beat a second-tier German roster 4-3 in

a June exhibition at Washington.

”With Jurgen Klinsmann, they have another mentality,” Loew

said. ”I learned a lot from Jurgen, so this is special.”

Ranked 14th in the world, the U.S. has alternated quick exits

with advancement since returning to soccer’s showcase in 1990 after

a 40-year absence.

After the draw four years ago, one British paper used a headline

”EASY” for England, Algeria, Slovenia and the Yanks, and The Sun

called it the ”best English group since the Beatles.” The

Americans wound up atop a group for the first time since the first

World Cup in 1930, and England advanced as the second-place

nation.

This time, second-ranked Germany and fifth-ranked Portugal are

the favorites to reach the second round. If the U.S. qualifies for

the round of 16, it would face Belgium, Russia, Algeria or South

Korea from Group H.

As for the rest of the field, Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico

were put in Group A; Australia, Chile, Netherlands and Spain in

Group B; Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan in Group C; Costa

Rica, England, Italy and Uruguay in Group D; Ecuador, France,

Honduras and Switzerland in Group E; and Argentina,

Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria in Group F.

The U.S. will feel pressure to open with a win against

24th-ranked Ghana. The Black Stars defeated the Americans 2-1 in

the 2006 group stage and by the same score in overtime in the round

of 16 at the last World Cup in South Africa.

”They’re the team that beat us, kind of crushed our dreams of

being in the World Cup, so I think we’re due a little bit of luck

and we’re due a win against them,” Dempsey said.

At the 2002 tournament, the U.S. opened with a 3-2 upset of

Portugal after taking a shocking three-goal lead in the first 36

minutes. Several of the American players are of German descent, so

all three matchups are intriguing.

The U.S. will train at home from mid-May until early June and

plans 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.”

AP Sports Writers Tales Azzoni in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil, and

Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Kan., contributed to this report.