World Cup Preview Group G: Germany, Portugal navigate the U.S., Ghana minefield

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Group B has the power, Group D has the balance, but Group G has its own claim to being the 2014 World Cup’s group of death:

  • In every World Cup Germany’s entered, they’ve made it to the final eight;
  • Portugal has one of the world’s two best players (Cristiano Ronaldo) and took Spain to penalty kicks in the semifinals of the last European championship;
  • A United States team that made the Round of 16 two years ago improved its qualifying performance while forging a more resourceful squad;
  • Ghana has more viable attacking options than the team that made the final eight in South Africa.

The argument against this being the Group of Death: There’s a pretty big drop off after the quartet’s top two, a drop you don’t see in Groups B and D. Ultimately, if there are no upsets, two teams that may not be among the best 16 in the world won’t make it to the second round. Your website of choice probably won’t break out the big typeface if the U.S. and Ghana go home.

That’s not a Group of Death, but it is a group of depth – a packet that could provide drama, particularly if Portugal isn’t at full strength when they face Germany on June 16.

Let’s take another look at Group G (click on country name for full preview)

Germany: The loss of a player like Marco Reus would be debilitating for most World Cup qualifiers, but Germany’s depth in attack means the Nationalmannschaft is unlikely to feel that pain until the later rounds. In this group, an ability to control the midfield may prove too much to over come in games two and three, while the 2010 semifinalists are capable of out-gunning Portugal in the opener.

Portugal: Tendinosis may not completely derail Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup, but there’s a chance the Portugal star will be hampered throughout the tournament. If he can’t be his normal, explosive self, it will be up to midfielder Joao Moutinho to get the best out of the Selccao’s other attacking options.

Ghana: A deep array of attacking talent is capable of overcoming the team’s typical problems. At the back, the Black Stars’ weakness in goal can be heightened by a lack of poise from their back four. Under the pressure their group mates can bring, Ghana’s back five will have to find a new level.

United States: While the team does not look glamorous on paper, a convincing run through CONCACAF qualifying hints the squad may be more capable than it was four years ago. With Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm, the U.S. has been able to leverage its new approach to forge its physical capabilities with tactical flexibility. They’re the team most likely to make meaningful tweaks from game to game.

Who’s going through: Germany, clearly. Portugal is the next most likely, but health could become a major concern. The U.S. is being scoffed at by the typical detractors, but they’re more adaptable than they’ve been at previous tournaments. Ghana is the team least likely, but even they’re capable of springing the upsets that would carry them through.

Who’s going home: Most likely, the U.S. and Ghana. Portugal could replace one of them, while it would be an utter shot of Joachim Löw’s side was tripped up twice in three matches.

Top players to watch:

5. João Bradley … errr, Michael Moutinho – you know, that central midfielder from the United States of Portugal? (Reality: Moutinho and the U.S.’s Michael Bradley will each play crucial roles or their teams.)

4. Mario Götze, Germany

3. Thomas Müller, Germany

2. Phillip Lahm, Germany

2. Marco Reus, Germany

1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC, HOU play to 1-1 draw… in Connecticut

Photo credit: New York City FC / @NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less more): New York City FC entered the weekend having dropped just 12 points (two losses, three draws) at home all season. That, of course, is their record within the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, the third-year MLS club’s temporary home for the foreseeable future. In truth, it was a minor miracle NYCFC hadn’t been forced from their home in the Bronx before Saturday’s clash with the Houston Dynamo, which ended a 1-1 draw at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn. Attendance suffered, rightfully so. With the Yankees scheduled to play a make-up game Monday night, NYCFC were made to work out alternative stadium arrangements due to the amount of time required to convert Yankee Stadium into a baseball field once again. Anyway, Maxi Moralez and Mauro Manotas scored the goals, each inside the game’s opening 16 minutes. The point does very little for NYCFC (52 points), who remain 10 points off the pace of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading Toronto FC, and just four points clear of third-place Chicago Fire; Houston (39) are buoyed a bit more, as they move ahead of Real Salt Lake for the Western Conference’s sixth and final playoff place (for the time being).

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Moralez rises up, heads NYCFC ahead — Chances are, when the shortest player on the field scores from a header, somebody missed their marking assignment.

16′ — Manotas beats Johnson off the quick FK — Chances are, when the opponent scores from a quick free kick, somebody fell asleep and wasn’t paying attention.

89′ — Deric protects the upper-90 to preserve a point — Jack Harrison probably thought he’d beaten Tyler Deric into the upper-90, but the Dynamo goalkeeper kept his side level with a stunning Save of the Week nominee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tyler Deric

Goalscorers: Moralez (6′), Manotas (16′)

PL Sunday preview: Newcastle shoot for top-4 place at Brighton

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures offers up a meeting of two newly promoted sides in the only game of the day.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Newcastle’s return to the PL had all the makings of another spectacular flame-out and an immediate return to the Championship — owner Mike Ashley promised manager Rafa Benitez a busy summer of signings, but that never materialized; Benitez’s discontent was widely reported, some going so far as to say he had considered stepping down; the Magpies lost their first two games of the season, failing to score in either — until Jamaal Lascelles decided he was having no more of it.

Lascelles, Newcastle’s 23-year-old captain and star center back, has helped Benitez’s boys to three straight victories, in which they’ve conceded just one goal (in last week’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City), has united a group of players which seemed headed for self-destruction just four short weeks ago. The key, according to Lascelles, is accountability evenly shared by every player in the dressing room.

[ MORE: Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop,” Lascelles said. “We’d be looking at each other like, ‘who’s going to step up?’ But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys are excellent, we just keep going.”

Three points on Sunday would see Newcastle leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, two sides level on 11 points and presently fighting over fourth place, to finish the weekend in the PL’s final Champions League place (after six of 38 games, of course).

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

As for Brighton, returning home to Falmer Stadium is a welcome development after losing twice at Bournemouth (first in the PL, then in the League Cup) in the span of four days. In charge of Brighton is another former Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, who guided his new club to promotion from the Championship last season (just as he did for Newcastle in 2010). Brighton held the league lead heading into the season’s final days before the Seagulls faltered and Newcastle pounced, but Hughton says there isn’t any ill will onto which to be held.

“There shouldn’t be, because they deserved it,” Hughton said. “We had opportunities in the last three games to clinch the title and we weren’t good enough at that particular moment to do that. All credit goes to Newcastle for doing it and certainly there’s no revenge. We are up against a good team that’s in good form at the moment.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Izzy Brown (hamstring) | Newcastle — OUT: Aleksandar Mitrovic (suspended), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Karl Darlow (ankle)

Klopp, Henderson: Coutinho shows he’s “highest quality player”

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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As it turns out, it was with good reason that Liverpool refused to lose superstar midfielder Philippe Coutinho this summer, despite big-money advances from Barcelona, and the player’s admission that he himself wanted to make the move.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

On Saturday, the 25-year-old Brazilian made his second straight in Premier League play, and reminded everyone just why a club like Barcelona would pursue him with unrelenting vigor. He started with an assist to Mohamed Salah for the game’s opening goal, and chipped in a score of his own, a stunning free kick (WATCH HERE), to double the lead a few minutes later. The Reds would hang (just barely) for a 3-2 win away to Leicester City.

Following the game, Liverpool manager was full of praise for Coutinho, calling him “the highest quality player,” which is something he believes was never in doubt — quotes from the BBC:

“Nobody was in doubt about this. It is clear he is the highest quality player. We are happy to have him around.”

As for the performance overall, Klopp was largely pleased, even if being so required him to completely ignore the (continued) defensive frailties of his side:

“It is not a time to be completely cool but overall I was happy with our performance. The boys deserved the three points. The free kick for the first goal was not a free-kick and it was a foul on Simon [for the second goal].

“At the start of the second half we played the same football like Leicester — kind of hectic. Simon saved the penalty and then I think we really deserved the win.

“I really thought in a moment like this so many things are positive. The three points are the proof for the public that we are still here, everything is good. Let’s make the next step together.”

Captain Jordan Henderson joined Klopp in his praise for Coutinho, echoing similar sentiments about the best player employed at Anfield since the departure of Luis Suarez:

“Coutinho is a fantastic player. He produces magical things at crucial times of the game. This will give us good confidence going forward.”

Bundesliga wrap: BVB stays red hot, Hoffenheim goes second (video)

Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP
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Borussia Dortmund is alone atop the Bundesliga table with 16 points and a plus-18 goal differential, while Hoffenheim moved ahead of Bayern Munich for second place on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Borussia Dortmund 6-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

It wasn’t the Christian Pulisic show this time, as star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged a hat trick, Maximilian Philipp added two goals, and Julian Weigl’s knuckling shot from distance rounded out the scoring. Lars Stindl scored for the visitors.

Pulisic went 64 minutes for the hosts.

Hoffenheim 2-0 Schalke

A second-straight start for American central midfielder Weston McKennie unfortunately yieled a second-successive loss, as Dennis Geiger scored in the 13th minute and Lukas Rupp salted away the win in the 90th. McKennie went 74 minutes, won seven tackles, and covered 9.47 kilometers in the loss.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

Jean-Kevin Augustin and Timo Werner gave last season’s upstarts a 2-0 before Ante Rebic set the stage for a promising final quarter hour with a 77th minute tally.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 2-2 Wolfsburg — Friday
Stuttgart 0-0 Augsburg
Mainz 1-0 Hertha Berlin
Werder Bremen 0-0 Freiburg
Hannover vs. Koln — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hamburg — Noon ET