SAO PAULO – United States midfielder Michael Bradley has ordered his colleagues to show no fear in their opening World Cup game against Ghana next Monday despite the team's dismal record against the powerful African side.
Getting drawn into Group G with Ghana – as well as Portugal and Germany – was a mischievous twist of fate for the Americans, who immediately meet the opponent that knocked them out of the last two World Cup tournaments.
Bradley and the rest of the team watched the second half of Ghana's final warm-up game on television Monday night, a 4-0 thrashing of South Korea at Miami's Sun Life Stadium with U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in attendance on a scouting mission. However, Bradley insisted that the Americans will not be fazed either by that ominous performance or by history when they kick off their campaign at the Estadio das Dunas in Natal.
"It would be easy to look at the end and say '4-0 what a performance,' " Bradley said at the team's training base on Tuesday. "But still, it's a warm-up game.
"Regardless of how the game went, we have a lot of respect for Ghana. They're a good team. We know that they're dangerous. They can cause trouble. But I'm not sure how you can take from last night or any of these games, to be honest."
Ghana has become a nemesis for the Americans dating back to the 2006 World Cup. Going into the final game of the group stage, a U.S. victory would have guaranteed it a place in the knockout round, but instead the U.S. suffered a 2-1 defeat against a determined Ghana side playing in its first World Cup.
Four years later, the Americans – led by Bradley's father Bob – were confident going into their round-of-16 contest with the Ghanaians, having finished top of Group C thanks to a dramatic late winner by Landon Donovan against Algeria.
However, the dream died on a chilly night in Rustenburg, South Africa, with a goal from Asamoah Gyan sealing another 2-1 triumph for Ghana in extra time.
Bradley pays little attention to precedent, though, pointing out that the Ghanaian side, as well as that of the U.S., has gone through major personal changes over the course of the last four years.
"I do think that it's a different team than the one we played in 2010," Bradley said of Ghana. "I remember quite a bit about the game, for a majority of it we were the ones in control and pushing things and looking to get back to 1-1, and once we did get back to 1-1 we were still pushing for a winner.
"Ghana have guys who have a mix of athleticism and technical ability; the way that they can take certain plays and improvise and turn a half play into a chance all of a sudden. We have to understand what they're all about."
Klinsmann and his squad are fully aware that a strong start to the tournament is vital, particularly with European heavyweights Portugal and Germany to follow. Teams who avoid defeat in their first game, statistically, stand a much greater chance of progressing from the group stage, sometimes leading to a safety-first tactical approach early in the tournament.
"The first game is so important," Bradley added. "So we certainly made no secret that all the focus at this point is about Ghana and making sure we do everything we can spot.
"We can sit here now and talk about wanting to start well. But just because you talk about it doesn't mean it is guaranteed."
Indeed, in World Cups nothing is guaranteed. Except in this Group of Death, a daunting task lies ahead.