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The United States' path through Group G isn't straightforward

Beat Ghana, draw one of Germany or Portugal. Right? Well, maybe there's a different path.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Preview'

When the United States' name was announced during the World Cup draw, the soccer-following American public all had more or less the same reaction.

"Not Group G. Not Group G. Not Group G."

It was Group G.

America won't back down from the challenge because America always antes up, but it was a rather unfortunate stroke of luck. Group G -- featuring the United States, Germany, Portugal and Ghana -- is probably the strongest in the World Cup. It's going to be very difficult for the U.S. to get out of, and fans have their sights set on the opening game against Ghana as a must-win. But is it really that straightforward?

The first thing to recognize is that there are no certainties, and not every team is who you think they are. In 2006, the United States' most likely path to a knockout stage berth appeared to be a draw in the opening game against the Czech Republic, a loss to Italy and a win over Ghana to send them through in second place on four points.

Instead, the USMNT got dismantled by the Czechs and their World Cup was over. But wait! What's that? We drew Italy? Well then, if we're good enough to draw Italy, surely we're good enough to beat Ghana and head to the Round of 16! And then the tragedy of Claudio Reyna's knee happened and the United States exited the tournament after drawing against the eventual champions and losing to two very average teams.

A similar scenario may play out in the 2014 edition of the World Cup, with the United States facing down a "Group of Death" that features one of the most storied teams in international football, a really good second-tier European team and Ghana. The order of the games is different, but the formula looks similar: Beat Ghana, draw Portugal, probably lose to Germany, finish second.

But a story very similar to the one from 2006 could play itself out again. Because Portugal, while not as good as Germany, present a matchup nightmare for the United States. And Ghana look very beatable yet again, but they also have the top-end talent to pull a victory out of absolutely nowhere. They're dangerous. There's a very real possibility that the United States could leave the World Cup with zero points even though they're nowhere near the worst team in the tournament.

If the United States is going to get out of the group, the easiest and most straightforward path is, yes, a win over Ghana in the opening game. They would struggle to get results against the two European sides under normal circumstances and might be a bit demoralized by a first-match loss to a team whose number they've had for a while now. But a loss is not the end for the U.S., mostly thanks to the injuries carried by both Portugal and Germany and partially thanks to the way teams like those two tend to attempt to play against teams like the United States.

Germany have major problems in midfield, with three of their top five central midfield players missing the tournament. Ilkay Gündogan and the Bender brothers have been left home, and it's not clear if the former will ever play professional soccer at the highest level again. That puts a lot of pressure on Sami Khedira, who tore his ACL less than six months ago, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who hasn't looked fully fit for about a year now.

Despite those injury issues, Germany aren't going to let up against the U.S., or anyone else for that matter. They're going to push numbers forward and attack aggressively. Aggressive offense plus creaky midfielders means space to counterattack. And Germany will have to start one -- if not both -- of insane headcase Mats Hummels and statuesque beanpole Per Mertesacker in the center of defense. The USMNT might get passed off the park and hit four times fewer shots than their opponents, but they will have quality chances.

Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo represents a potential issue for Portugal. He's been battling injuries off and on all spring and wasn't 100 percent fit when he started the Champions League final. He sat out Portugal's last friendly, is going to sit out at least one more, and looks to be facing a race to get fit to face Germany on June 16. It's entirely possible that Ronaldo won't be anywhere near the best version of himself come June 22. And when Portugal don't have Ronaldo, they never seem to know what to do.

So yes, the obvious path to a knockout stage berth is a win over Ghana followed by a draw over one of the European sides, but Ghana is no pushover and both of those European sides have flaws.

There are lots of different ways the United States can get out of Group G. Don't assume it's over if they don't win on June 16.