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World Cup 2014 Previews, Group G: Ghana

SOCCER: World Cup-Ghana vs Uruguay

Team: Ghana
Group: G
Schedule: June 16 vs. United States; June 21 vs. Germany; June 26 vs. Portugal
World Cup Record: 4-3-2 (Round of 16, 2006)
Qualifying Form: Rolled through CAF Group D with a 5-1-0 mark, out-scoring opponents 18-3. Followed it up with a 7-3 shellacking of Bob Bradley’s Egypt squad in a two-leg playoff.

Manager: James Kwesi Appiah, who has been in charge of Ghana since 2012. On his staff are former Ghanian standouts Samuel Kuffour, Stephen Appiah and Tony Yeboah. Appiah played against the United States at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

Player to Watch: Kevin-Prince Boateng. American fans will certainly remember his goal four years ago in Rustenberg, South Africa. Boateng is certainly capable of the spectacular, but he can also drift through matches anonymously. At his best he’s a game-changer. If he’s in-form Ghana is a serious threat against the United States and Portugal or Germany for that matter, giving Ghana the best chance of a non-Europe/South American team to make a deep run. X-Factor might be a lame cliche bandied about far too often, but it’s applicable to Boateng. Players like him seem to crop up when the spotlight shines brightest.

Unrelated: he also does a great Michael Jackson impression.

Tactics/Style: Ghana tend to play more direct than most squad nowadays, winning the ball in the midfield and trying to get it long to Asamoah Gyan. Scoring isn’t a problem for Gyan with 49 goals in 79 international matches for Ghana, or at the club level. Granted he now makes a boatload of cash playing for Al-Ain in the UAE Pro-League. Gyan’s scored 59 times in 47 games since moving to the Middle East from Sunderland. Majeed Waris is another speed option and paired up top with Gyan in qualifying in a 4-4-2 formation. Juventus’ Kwadwo Asamoah is probably Ghana’s best asset and can play anywhere in the midfield or even left back in a pinch. Chelsea-owned Christian Atsu is yet attacking option.

There are some gaps in Ghana’s lineup, however. The defense is unsettled across the back four. Goalkeeper is a question mark and Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari aren’t the players they once were, save for some late miracle treatments at the AC Milan training facility. Appiah might use a more conservative 4-5-1 with Asmoah as the lone front man in Brazil in an attempt to mask the weaknesses at the back.

RELATED: The Big Lead 2014 World Cup Previews

WAG of Note:  Melissa Satta, wife of Kevin-Prince Boateng. The couple are noted for engaging in “excessive sex,” which according to Internet legend cost him a month on the sidelines with a thigh injury while on the roster of AC Milan.

The United States’ best-case scenario vs. Ghana: The grand cosmic scales of justice even out for referee Markus Merk’s dubious penalty call on Oguchi Onyewu in 2006.

The United States’ worst-case scenario vs. Ghana: Well … the worst-case scenario — elimination — has played out the last two times for the U.S. vs. Ghana. A loss here doesn’t eliminate Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, but puts it in desperation mode vs. Portugal and Germany — a tall order for any team, let alone one with as many question marks as the U.S. In this scenario American fans will find a new scapegoat to replace Ricardo Clark and Bob Bradley.

Odds of winning: 250-to-1

Lowpoint: I’ll go out on a very short limb: we won’t see anything as remotely insane as Luis Suarez’s 120th minute handball on the line followed by Gyan’s missed penalty like we did in the 2010 quarterfinals. If any team feels like it might be “cursed,” it’s Ghana after that match which would have made it the first African team to reach the semifinal stage had it won in penalty kicks.

“Experience” and those sort of cliches get tossed around with abandon at the World Cup, but you’d think any Ghanaian player who played in that match is going to remember it and realize how small a margin of error this tournament allows.

Last word: Make no mistake, Ghana is good and talented, however its also not the 1985 Chicago Bears of soccer. For all the doom-and-gloom when the draw came out in December, Ghana and the United States are fairly comparable. Take away the losses in the last two World Cups and this game has a much different feel. That said, man-for-man, the Ghana team probably trumps the U.S. talent-wise. Meanwhile Ghana won’t overlook the U.S., knowing three points for its first match put it on track not only to get out of Group G, but make a deep run in the tournament.

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