COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil — The United States will play Ghana, Portugal and Germany in a tough first-round group at next year’s World Cup that will take them on a lengthy 9,000-mile trip around Brazil.
Making their seventh straight appearance at football’s showcase, the Americans were drawn Friday into Group G and will open on June 16 in Natal against Ghana, which eliminated them at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
The U.S. meets Portugal and 2008 FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo on June 22 in the Amazon rain forest city Manaus. The Americans close group play on June 26 in Recife against Germany.
“I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get Germany,” said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who played for Die Mannschaft’s 1990 World Cup winning team and coached his native country to third place in 2006. “Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States. It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger.
“But that’s what a World Cup is about. It’s a real challenge. And we’ll take it. We’ll take it on, and hopefully we’re going to surprise some people there.”
Germany, which beat the U.S. 1-0 in the 2002 quarterfinals, is coached by Klinsmann’s former assistant, Joachim Loew.
“Obviously, there are a lot of emotions involved. It’s normal. I’m German,” Klinsmann said. “It’s going to be a special moment.”
Ranked 14th in the world, the U.S. has alternated quick exits with advancement since returning to soccer’s showcase in 1990.
Second-ranked Germany and fifth-ranked Portugal are the favorites to advance to the second round. If the U.S. advances, it would face Belgium, Russia, Algeria or South Korea in the second round.
The U.S. will be under pressure to open with a win against Ghana, which is ranked 24th. The Black Stars defeated the Americans 2-1 in the group stage in 2006 and by the same score in overtime in the round of 16 at the last World Cup.
“After the two losses, it’s about time to beat them, I guess,” Klinsmann said.
At the 2002 tournament, the U.S. opened with a 3-2 upset of Portugal after taking a shock three-goal lead inside the first 36 minutes.
“Difficult draw, but a group the U.S. can get through if they play well,” former U.S. coach Bruce Arena told The Associated Press.
The Americans will be based in Sao Paulo and face trips of 1,436 miles to Natal, 1,832 miles to Manaus and 1,321 miles to Recife.
“There will be some problems from the organizational side, traveling side. And we hit the worst of the worst,” Klinsmann said. “Every coach that I talked to, at least today, said everything but Manaus. No — we get Manaus.”