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Taking on the World

“People should know when they are conquered.”

“Would you Quintas? Would I?”

As the US waits for its Round of 16 game vs. Ghana on Saturday, the Americans face a favorable draw and a real chance to advance, not just past Ghana but into the final four.

“The USA never gives up,” Spain’s Cesc Fabregas said in published reports. “That’s why I believe they can go much further because they fight to the end and work so hard. So, I can see them reaching the semifinals, and then who knows what happens?”

The team’s last-minute win against Algeria revealed the squad’s true heart. The Americans had every opportunity to give up – they had never won the third game in group play (0-6-0 all-time), yet another bad call from the ref denied them a rightful goal, their shots kept finding the cross bar or the post, rather than the back of the net, and they were moments away from being eliminated in the group stage for the second World Cup in a row.

But they wouldn’t accept being conquered. That’s not the American way.

While Landon Donovan received much of the attention for scoring the game winning goal, the win vs. Algeria was truly a team effort. Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, among others, continued to pepper the goal with shots, while Tim Howard was a rock in goal for the Americans.

The World Cup’s motto is One Game Changes Everything, at that was certainly true for the US, as ESPN’s Chris Jones points out:

In those 12 seconds between Tim Howard’s throw and Landon Donovan’s finish, in those 12 seconds when the U.S. team managed to go from elimination to winning its group, a massive psychological shift occurred. That goal against Algeria changed everything. The Americans went from disappointments to heroes; Bob Bradley went from being the wrong man for the job to a strategic genius; Donovan himself saw stories about his missed potential erased and hastily rewritten, turned into stories that instead celebrated his gifts, his stone-cold ability to finish when his team, his country, needed him most.

Now the world’s biggest fear – the American team advancing through the knockout stages – is right there for the taking. The US has a chance Saturday to avenge the group stage loss to Ghana in 2006 that knocked them out of the tournament. Ghana hasn’t played well so far this year, their only goals have come on penalty kicks, they don’t have their best player, Michael Essien, and their keeper is the shaky Richard Kingson.

If the US can get past Ghana, they will most likely face Uruguay, who emerged from a weak group that included South Africa and the French. Not exactly something to keep the team up at night. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The Americans have to take care of business starting Saturday. If they play with the drive and pace they displayed against Algeria, there’s a very real chance they will advance.

The world is theirs for the taking. Whether the world likes it or not.

World Cup Preview – Group D

This is probably the toughest group in the tournament. Germany should take the top spot; after that it’s a tossup on who among Serbia, Ghana and Australia will take the second qualifying position.

Germany made the semifinals as the host country four years ago, but is in a state of transition as it welcomes some young players to the squad. They are also dealing with the injury to team leader Michael Ballack, a player that coach Joachim Löw called “irreplaceable.” One of the world’s most prolific teams, Germany is facing some difficulties in attack as Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich) has been on the bench for the Bundesliga champions, and Lukas Podolski (Cologne) has scored just three goals this season. The hope is that coach Löw’s belief in the players can bring back their confidence to help lead Germany to another strong World Cup run.

The Germans could be the ones to watch, having breezed through the group stages undefeated. They also have a particularly strong World Cup record, having won the thing three times (1954, 1974, 1990), and made it all the way to the final on a further four occasions (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002). Even if the Germans do emerge winning the group, they could face both Argentina and Spain on the road to another possible final.

Ghana did well last time, emerging from 2006’s “group of death” before losing in the round of 16 to Brazil. That was one of the youngest teams in Germany, so this is essentially the same team, with a few more youngsters thrown in, given that Ghana won the Under-20 World Cup last year. The 20-year-old rising star defender Samuel Inkoom (Basle) is on the team, as are midfielder Agyemang Badu (Udinese), midfielder Dede Ayew (Arlese Avignon), and striker Dominic Adiyah (Milan).

Although it was the first African team to qualify (save for the hosts), Ghana is probably not the best team on the continent, an honor that would go to Ivory Coast or perhaps Cameroon (or even Egypt, which didn’t make the tournament but won the African Nations Cup). In particular, Ghana lacks the striking talent of some of the other African clubs.

This will be the first year that Serbia enters a World Cup as just Serbia. Last time they were shackled by Montenegro, and before that they were more commonly known as Yugoslavia. Hence, all there is to really go on is the qualifying campaign, in which they managed to win their group, which included France and Romania. This is a dangerous team, which plays just the kind of soccer that could thrive at altitude. Unfortunately in the first round, none of its games are at the highest elevations. The White Eagles’ squad includes several stars of European soccer, including Nemanja Vidic — who missed the 2006 tournament with injury — and Dejan Stankovic.

The 20th ranked Aussies are a tenacious, defensive-minded squad who play obstructive, bruising football with little regard for their own safety. This is not to call them reckless, but as any of their first-round opponents last time found out, the Socceroos are a friend to shin guard suppliers everywhere. They play unapologetically slow, brutal soccer. Australia is quite a decent team, but it got this impossible draw so unless it can pull off some unexpected upsets, it could well be going home after three games.

With a veteran squad looking to build on a Round of 16 performance at Germany 2006, Australia will be making a third appearance in the World Cup, yet its first as a representative from the Asian confederation after switching FIFA regions four years ago.

Information for this preview was researched, and more team information is available, here, here, here and here. And also here.

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