Ghana backed for narrow win

Ben Coley and Matt Brocklebank preview tonight's World Cup games and aren't expecting many goals in the late games.

Last Updated: 17/06/14 at 02:08

Asamoah Gyan; Back in favour in the Ghana set-up

Asamoah Gyan; Back in favour in the Ghana set-up

Ben Coley and Matt Brocklebank preview tonight's World Cup games and aren't expecting many goals in the late games.

Germany v Portugal (Group G, Salvador, 1700 BST)

If you're still unsure as to how important the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo is to this fascinating tie, check out the anytime scorer betting. The Ballon d'Or winner is favourite at prices ranging from evens to 11/8, but after him come six Germans before you get to the next Portuguese. Without Ronaldo, it's clear that most expect Portugal to struggle in front of goal. It's hard to be certain at this stage just where Ronaldo is in terms of fitness - there are conflicting reports doing the rounds - but it seems clear to me that were this first game against Ghana or the USA, he would not feature from the start having again limped out of training earlier this week. That it's against group favourites Germany may force Paulo Bento's hand and it's therefore also possible that he plays despite not being 100% ready.

Germany of course were dealt their own blow in the run-up to the tournament when Marco Reus was ruled out through injury and that leaves veteran Miroslav Klose as their only recognised striker. The Lazio man isn't expected to start against Portugal and there seems a growing belief in football circles that Germany may flatter to deceive here, one fed by the absence of perceived attacking options. It isn't one I agree with. Spain have demonstrated that an out-an-out striker isn't a necessity and in Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil, coach Joachim Low has three of the most dangerous midfielders in the World Cup all capable of filling the so-called 'false 9' position. In addition, Andre Schurrle's performances for his country continue to impress more than those he produces at club level while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski are also capable of chipping in. There's of course a slight concern that those mentioned endured long seasons - albeit with some degree of success - but again it's not something which overly concerns me and that feeling stems once more from the success of Spain in recent years, with the core of their squad always involved in the latter stages of domestic competitions. Certainly, if Ronaldo is ruled out I'd make Germany a fine bet at odds-against and I encourage you to stand by for confirmed team news and act quickly if his name is not among Bento's starting line-up. Germany qualified for Brazil in style whereas Portugal needed a play-off with Sweden, and the three-time World Cup winners have an outstanding record when it comes to getting their campaigns off to an ideal start. A minor reshuffling of their defence isn't too much of a concern, especially if Ronaldo is named among the substitutes, and their energetic style can prove too much for the Portuguese. However, such is the impact of that team news that I can't pull the trigger with any recommended bet at this stage and I'm content to hope that I'm wrong and that Portugal - tipped outright by my colleague Andy Schooler - can make a bold statement at the first opportunity in this Group E opener.

Verdict: Germany 3 Portugal 1 (BC)

Opta facts: Germany's opening game at the 2014 World Cup against Portugal will be their 100th in the competition, they are the first team to reach that tally.

Die Mannschaft have opened their last six World Cups with a victory; the last time they failed to win their opening game was back in 1986, when they drew 1-1 with Uruguay.

Germany have only lost one of their last 18 games in the group stages of the World Cup, against Serbia on 18 June 2010 (0-1), winning 13 and drawing four.

Portugal have only won one of their last seven games at the World Cup (7-0 v North Korea in 2010), drawing three and losing three.

Iran v Nigeria (Group F, Curitiba, 2000)

Not a game that will attract masses of attention pre-match, but an intriguing Group F contest lies in store nevertheless. With Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina to follow, it's no exaggeration to suggest both sides will be considering this a must-win if they are going to stand a chance of progressing to the round of 16. African Cup of Nations champions Nigeria are the easy-to-back favourites to claim all three points against Iran, managed by former Manchester United assistant and Real Madrid boss Carlos Queiroz. Iran's impressive form of one defeat in their past 12 fixtures (including friendlies) provides some encouragement, while the goalscoring record of Charlton's Reza Ghoochannejhad in qualification makes him of some interest in the any time (33/10) and first (7/1) goal markets. Nigeria cruised to the finals after topping their CONCACAF group and beating Ethiopia in the play-off but they have struggled in recent warm-up friendlies, including draws with Scotland and Greece and a 2-1 defeat at the hands of USA last time. Premier League fans will be familiar with the likes of Peter Odemwingie, Shola Ameobi and Victor Moses, who could all feature for the Super Eagles, but it would be unfair to expect fireworks from Stephen Keshi's team and 5/4 makes precious little appeal against an Iran team bound to try and base their efforts around a solid defence. The general lack of attacking talent on show, highlighted here in our in-depth group preview, leaves the impression a small interest on under 1.5 goals at 19/10 could be the way to approach this, but it's a game many punters will sit out in order to gain a better feel of how these teams are going to cope in Brazil.

Verdict: Iran 0 Nigeria 1 (MB)

Opta facts: Iran have won only one of their nine games at the World Cup, against USA in 1998 (2-1). Nigeria are winless in their last eight World Cup games (D2 L6). It's the longest current drought among the 32 teams taking part in 2014. The one previous meeting between Iran and Nigeria came in a friendly in 1998; the Super Eagles won 1-0.

Ghana v USA (Group G, Natal, 2300)

Football has taken a back seat in Natal over the weekend, with heavy rain causing what's been described locally as 'a small landslide', which in turn prompted the evacuation of more than 50 residences in the north-eastern city due to host Ghana v USA on Monday. These two sides have previous at World Cups, more specifically each of the last two, with Ghana running out 2-1 winners on both occasions. The most recent of those was of course in South Africa where Ghana were so unfortunate not to reach the semi-finals, and much remains the same among their ranks although Michael Essien is present this time having missed 2010 through injury. The Black Stars don't boast much of a defensive record either in qualifying or the World Cup proper and it's that which may cost them a return to the knockout stages, but against a USA side short of attacking quality with Landon Donovan left out of the squad, that issue may not show itself here. USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann has stamped his mark on the national side and they've become known for a high-paced, pressing style, the type of which will surely not be suited to the tropical conditions they're set to face in all three group games.

The former Spurs striker relies on Jose Altidore and Clint Dempsey to provide the attacking threat and that says plenty about what we can expect from the side anticipated by many to finish bottom of Group G. Granted a more stable forecast I'd be prepared to back Ghana but there remains speculation that the weather could even force the abandonment of this game. If it does go ahead then conditions are likely to be extremely poor and with points being vital to both sides in terms of their prospects in the group, a low-scoring affair could be on the cards. It's worth noting that Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in poor conditions here on Friday and their coach Miguel Herrera said afterwards: "We could have scored more, but unfortunately we're not used to these conditions." Something similar could well be on the cards. You can get 2/1 that there are under 1.5 goals in this game which looks fair, while it could also be worth considering 5/2 about the first half producing the most goals. I fancy there might well just be one, but if conditions do deteriorate throughout the game it's possible that it could come before the break. The bet I like, however, is USA to fail to score at 2/1 (total USA goals or Ghana clean sheet market). Recently they've failed to find the net against the likes of Scotland, Ukraine and Austria and they struggled to break down weaker sides than Ghana in qualifying. The African side aren't experts at the back but their midfield dominance, coupled with conditions, means USA may struggle to create chances.

Verdict: Ghana 1 USA 0 (BC)

Opta facts: Ghana have met USA in each of their two previous participations in World Cups, winning 2-1 on both occasions (2006 group, 2010 second round).

The USA have only kept two clean sheets in their last 23 games at the World Cup. Ghana scored more goals than any other team in the 2014 African World Cup qualifiers (25).

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