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2014 World Cup: Breaking down Group G

(SportsNetwork.com) - The "Group of Death" in this year's tournament, Group G brings the tantalizing prospect of Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States battling for two spots in the knockout round.

There is a great deal of familiarity between all four nations as they have faced each other several times in major competitions in recent years.

Ghana has knocked the United States out of the past two World Cups, dispatching the Americans in the final match of group play in 2006 before ousting the Yanks in the round of 16 in 2010.

Germany was grouped with Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. Both sides managed to advance to the knockout round despite Mesut Ozil guiding the Germans to a 1-0 victory over the African nation with a sublime strike from distance.

Portugal is quite familiar with Germany as both nations have had to qualify for the World Cup out of UEFA. They've also met in three of the last four major world tournaments, facing one another in the third-place match of the 2006 World Cup, the quarterfinals of Euro 2008 and the group stage of Euro 2012.

The United States, meanwhile, famously edged Portugal in the first match of the group stage in the 2002 World Cup, a result that helped the Americans advance to the next round at the expense of the European nation.

Both the American squad and coaching staff also have strong ties to Germany. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was a star on Germany's World Cup-winning team in 1990, and his in-depth knowledge of German football has aided his recruitment of several German-American players on the roster, including Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks and Julian Green.

Klinsmann's influential recruitment skills are not limited to German football. He successfully landed Icelandic-American striker Aron Johannsson, who could see some valuable minutes in Brazil if the scoring woes of first-choice forward Jozy Altidore continue.

While this might be the strongest American team in recent memory, they still must be counted as underdogs in an incredibly tough group.

Germany, a favorite to win the entire competition, is led by a strong contingent of Bayern Munich players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Toni Kroos.

Portugal seemed liked the strongest bet to join Germany in the knockout round, but now the nation is sweating the fitness of star player Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid superstar has been held out of the nation's warm-up matches with knee tendinosis, and the Portugal camp is tight-lipped on whether Ronaldo will be able to contribute in the group stage.

Ghana, aiming to reach the knockout round for the third successive World Cup, is a wild card in the group.

The African nation figures to be the weakest side in Group G, but experienced talent in the form of Michael Essien, Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari, Kevin- Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan could see them advance.

Game of the Group: Germany vs. Portugal (June 16)

The two European nations are the class of the group, but the fact that they meet in the Group G opener ratchets up the pressure a few notches as neither side will want to begin its World Cup quest in defeat.

Germany, the second-ranked team in the world, is far less reliant on one player, giving the side a bit more balance. But Portugal is still ranked fourth in the world, and if Cristiano Ronaldo is declared fit, the match will be very open.

The runner-up in the group will likely face Belgium in the knockout round, adding to the importance of a first-place finish in Group G.

Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

The argument could be made that no player in the tournament is as important to his team than Ronaldo is to Portugal.

Ronaldo, the reigning FIFA Ballon d'Or winner, is working his way back from a knee injury and may not even be able to feature for Portugal.

And given how reliant the Portuguese are on the Real Madrid attacker, his fitness is of the utmost importance.

If Ronaldo can go, Portugal must be considered among the favorites to advance from Group G. If not, the country could face a swift exit.

Breakout Player: Graham Zusi (United States)

The likes of Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have stolen the spotlight in the American camp ahead of the World Cup, but Graham Zusi could be the country's most important player.

Zusi will occupy a spot on the wing, and given that the Sporting Kansas City man is a relatively unknown quantity in the global game, he could be poised to raise a few eyebrows.

Predictions:

Group Winner: Germany

Germany has developed a habit of nearly winning tournaments only to fall short near the end.

There is a growing belief that the Germans must reach the final in order for this World Cup campaign to be deemed a success.

It is a realistic benchmark given that Germany is one of the top sides of the tournament, and it makes them the favorite, even in the field's toughest group.

Second Place: United States

Prior to Ronaldo's injury, second place in the group appeared be Portugal's to lose. But if the 28-year-old is unable to go, the U.S. looks likely to swoop in to steal a spot in the knockout round.

The Americans will be aided by playing Ghana in their opening match. Three points against the African side would give them a massive advantage, and playing a Ronaldo-less Portugal in their second match would be a huge boost.