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

Mendy a doubt for start of Man City’s Premier League season

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High-flying left back Benjamin Mendy‘s Manchester City takeoff has been delayed by a thigh injury.

Pep Guardiola revealed Thursday that Mendy is doubtful for City’s Aug. 12 Premier League opener at Brighton and Hove Albion despite passing a medical to push through a $68 million move from Monaco.

Saying Mendy is “a little bit injured,” Guardiola said to expect an absence of two to three weeks.

[ MORE: LAFC hires Bob Bradley ]

The depth chart behind Mendy is incomplete, though City has added two right backs this offseason in Kyle Walker and Danilo.

The latter would be the front-runner to start in Mendy’s place, as he did in a 3-5-2 as Man City beat Real Madrid 4-1 on Wednesday.

Man City follows its opener at Brighton with a visit from Everton and a trip to Bournemouth.

Roma gives new 4-year deal to Premier League target Nainggolan

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Hard-nosed midfielder Rajda Nainggolan has been linked to Manchester United and Chelsea for some time, but Thursday linked up long-term with his present club.

Nainggolan, 29, signed a new deal with AS Roma through the 2020-21 season, putting the Belgian box-to-box mid at the heart of i Lupi‘s plans to chase down Juventus.

[ MORE: Chatting with De Rossi ]

Nainggolan has been in the last two Serie A Best XIs.

The 29-times capped Belgian has six goals for his national team, and has 255 Serie A appearances between Cagliari and Roma. Nainggolan has 31 goals and 18 assists in those matches, scooping 62 yellows and two send-offs but never being handed straight red.

While it’s a perceived blow for his Premier League suitors, it’s a welcome retention for Roma. He’s arguably the reason Roma was ready to part with Michael Bradley in 2014, and you can see why: He plays right up to the line but knows right where it lies.

Too many fans: Udinese vs. Hannover friendly called off

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ST. VEIT, Austria (AP) Local authorities in southern Austria have called off Sunday’s friendly match between Udinese and Hannover as the estimated number of spectators exceeds the capacity of the stadium.

The city of St. Veit says about 4,000 fans, including 280 potential football hooligans, were expected for the game at the ground of local amateur club FC Alpe Adria, which has a capacity of 2,430.

St. Veit mayor Gerhard Mock says “it’s a shame … but security comes first.”

It’s not immediately clear whether the match between the Italian and German top-flight teams can be moved to a larger venue. Both Udinese and Hannover are having their preseason training camps in the province of Carinthia.

LIVE – Everton kick off Europa League campaign

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Wayne Rooney will play his first competitive game for Everton in 13 years.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores

That storyline will dominate Everton’s return to Europe as they kick off their 2017-18 UEFA Europa League campaign in front of a packed house at Goodison Park on Thursday.

The Toffees welcome Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok for the first leg of the third qualifying round as they aim to make it back to the group stage for the first time since 2014-15.

Click on the link above to follow not only Everton’s game but all of the Europa League qualifiers going on across Europe this afternoon with the likes of AC Milan, Fenerbache, PSV, Marseille and Athletic Bilbao all in action.

If Ronald Koeman‘s side successfully navigate their way past Ruzomberok then they will be in the play-off round which is the final hurdle before the group stage.