Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
The big day we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived.
Since learning the World Cup draw on Dec. 6, U.S. Men’s National Team fans have been counting down the days to Monday, when the USA will take on arch-nemesis Ghana at the Arena Das Dunas in Natal (6 p.m. ESPN). It’s a new-look USMNT squad compared to the last two World Cups, with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann picking a 23-man roster known for its technical skill as much as its overall fitness and work rate.
However, Ghana is a side with a good mix of young and old players, many of whom are playing in some of the top leagues in Europe. Brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew are expected to have a big impact, as are veterans Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
While it’s still up in the air what kind of formation Klinsmann will put out, there’s no doubt that Monday’s match will bring with it the same drama and excitement we’ve seen from the first four days of the 2014 World Cup.
Here are some more notes ahead of today’s World Cup action:
GERMANY vs. PORTUGAL
Two of Europe’s top teams face off to open Group G in steamy conditions at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador (12 p.m. ESPN).
Germany is looking to build off back-to-back semifinal appearances at the World Cup but faces a difficult opener with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Germany coach Joachim Löw has come under a lot of criticism in the last 12 months and lost one of his best players, Marco Reus, to an ankle injury in Die Manschafft’s final warm-up friendly.
Portugal has been boosted by the fact that Ronaldo says he’s 100 percent fit, despite still dealing with left knee tendonitis. Since Ronaldo almost single-handedly put Portugal into the World Cup, it’s important for him to prove his fitness in his nation’s opening match. Without Ronaldo, Portugal struggled in its first two warm-up matches against Greece and Mexico.
While this looks to be a great matchup on paper, both teams will probably play conservatively. Temperatures in Salvador at noon are expected to be hovering around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 74 percent humidity.
IRAN vs. NIGERIA
The middle game of Monday’s World Cup action takes place in the cooler climate of Curitiba, with Iran facing defending African Cup of Nations champion Nigeria (3 p.m. ESPN).
Iran surprised many in its qualification campaign, which concluded with a clinching 1-0 victory at South Korea, and they’re coached by experienced Portuguese boss Carlos Quieroz. The team relies on a number of dual-nationals like many other national teams around the world, including speedy forward Reza Ghoochannejhad (Netherlands), midfielder Ashkan Dejagah (Germany), and defender Steven Beitashour (USA).
Beitashour is aiming to go from his first camp with Iran last October to starting their World Cup opener eight months later.
Nigeria will be a difficult team to stop, though, with Shola Ameobi playing the front of the attack and talented midfielders John Obi Mikel, Ahmed Musa, and Victor Moses all supporting. Nigeria failed to put together a full 90 minute performance in its warm-up friendlies. Now at the World Cup, Stephen Keshi’s side hopes that it has worked out the kinks and can get its tournament started with a win to keep pace with Argentina in Group E.
What do you think of today’s slate of matches? What do you think are the key factors for the USA against Ghana? Do you believe Germany and Portugal can put on a good performance in the heat? Do you expect Iran to trouble Nigeria?
Share your thoughts below.