U.S. Soccer Hopes To Shake Shadow Of Recent History Against Ghana

The U.S. starts World Cup play Monday with a match against Ghana. Ghana has eliminated the U.S. from the two previous World Cups, but American fans watching the game in Natal, Brazil, remain optimistic.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. It's game day for the U.S. men at the World Cup in Brazil. The Americans play their first game at the tournament in just under an hour. They face Ghana, the team that's eliminated the U.S. from the previous two World Cups. NPR's Tom Goldman is in the Brazilian city of Natal for that game, and he joins me now. And Tom, before we start talking about the upcoming U.S. game, let's talk about another big match that's been played today. It was Germany versus Portugal. And - spoiler alert, here - it was a huge, huge win for Germany.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Huge win. 4-nil, and, you know, not a surprise really because Germany is the class of this group that includes Portugal, the U.S. and Ghana. Germany has won three World Cups. They've gotten to the finals of four others. They're an incredibly dominant team when it comes to the World Cup - three goals by star striker Thomas Muller. And really, what helped Germany today was Portuguese defender Pepe was dismissed for - and I'm quoting here, "violent conduct." He threw an arm at Muller and then leaned over and hit heads with Muller. He got a red card, which meant he was out of the game. Portugal was a man-down during the game, and Pepe will miss the next Portugal game, which is, of course, against the United States.

BLOCK: And Tom, help us understand this. In this group stage and in this particular group of death, as it's known, the fact that Portugal did so abysmally today is great news for the U.S. Why is that?

GOLDMAN: Yeah it's definitely good news because it separates Germany, as people figured it would. The U.S. - you know, it's a bit of a long shot to think that they would get points from Germany. So it's really a three team competition for the second spot. The top two in each group advance to the knockout stage. And now with Portugal so down - you know, with Pepe out of the game - with battling with injuries - their star forward, Cristiano Ronaldo, has been dealing with a bum knee, and he played the entire game today because there are others nursing injuries. So Portugal kind of limps into the second game. And if the U.S. can do well against Portugal, it would help their chances considerably. But I should say what's most important, is that the U.S. has to win tonight.

BLOCK: OK, well, let's talk about that match-up, then. U.S. versus Ghana - how does it look?

GOLDMAN: Well, if you want to know what Vegas thinks, Melissa, Vegas gives Ghana slight odds. But the Ghanaians have beaten the U.S. the last two world cups - doesn't really mean a lot because this is a much different U.S. team. They're younger. They've got a very skilled coach at the helm. What they're going to have to do, though - their defense is really going to have to be on. Their back line has been their Achilles' heel, and Ghana, in particular, is an attacking, aggressive team. And they're going to bring the attack, and so the U.S. has to really fortify its defense. Also it's going to be important for the U.S. not to just play possession soccer, but they're going to have to attack, themselves. And I have a feeling they're going to do that.

BLOCK: Well, they do have, apparently, a huge turnout of U.S. fans there to cheer them on.

GOLDMAN: They do - The American Outlaws, the self-proclaimed group of fanatic American boosters. We actually found a group of about 200 of them today, watching the Germany-Portugal match. They were very excited. They're excited anyway. They were walking around chanting and screaming and all that. But they were particularly excited because of what Germany was doing to Portugal - what the implications of that might be. We ran into one guy who was wearing a Landon Donovan jersey, and the idea was Landon Donovan - that was the controversy before this World Cup, when he was left off this U.S. team - the most recognizable U.S. player - Landon Donovan may not be here in actuality, but he's here in spirit.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tom Goldman outside the stadium in Natal, Brazil. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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