Daunting draw or not, World Cup isn’t an easy road

Just reaching the biggest stage of the world’s most popular sport, which thoroughly captivates a large portion of the global masses, is a major achievment in itself, but once a national team is part of the 32-countries field for the premier event of soccer, then the real challenges begin, starting with last Friday’s World Cup pool draw.

While all the national teams who survived the long qualifying sessions will make it to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, which starts in June, there are always a few countries who are going to be extremely bummed at what group their placed for the grand competition, because their chances of advancing become slim.

One of the nations feeling the ill sting of the group draw is the United States, which was placed in this World Cup’s “group of death,” or considered the toughest four-team pairings for the world championship tournament, which takes place every four years.

The U.S. is part of Group G, which includes a World Cup favorite, Germany, along with Portugal with one of the two best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, and then there’s Ghana, which knocked the Americans out of the past two World Cups. There are reasons for worry – but not panic.

Sure there are some weaker national teams whose chances of advancing to the knockout round of 16 are enhanced by their grouping, but, basically, this is the World Cup and nothing comes easy, no matter what nation, because the matches have to be played and, though they’re very seldom, major upsets can occur.

Personally, and I played soccer at a high level for nearly a decade in the 1970s, I feel this United States team will be one of the two teams that advances from each group, because it will, finally, defeat Ghana and then the Americans will knock off Portugal as they did in the 2002 Cup and reach the field of 16.

As for powerful Germany, the U.S. does have a chance for an upset because the coach is former German star player, captain and coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who knows quite a bit about his former national team and what it’s like to compete at soccer’s highest level.

Of course, as I’ve stated before, I’m a major fan of four countries, and being a 100-percent Italian-American, my two favorites are Italy (I’m a first-generation Italian) and the United States, followed by England – my wife’s nationality, and I played four years in an English league – and then Mexico (I also played two years in a Mexican league).

Italy is in Group D with Uruguay, Costa Rica and, sort of a drag, England, which means two of my favorites are pitted against each other. But it also means both teams can, and will, advance.

As for Mexico, it finds itself in Group A with World Cup host and favorite Brazil, along with Croatia and Cameroon, so our southern neighbor will also be challenged, like the U.S. in advancing, but I feel Mexico will move on.

The clock is ticking toward 2014 World Cup Brazil and by the time it arrives, the nerves of 32 nations will be shaking like the Brazilian music scene.