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 soccer’s showcase, the Americans were drawn Friday into Group G and will open on June 16 in Natal against Ghana, which eliminated the Americans at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments
The U.S. meets Portugal and 2008 FIFA Player of the Year Cristian Ronaldo on June 22 in the Amazon rain forest city Manaus. The Americans close group play on June 26 in Recife against Germany, which beat the U.S. in the 2002 quarterfinal.
“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 United States, ranked 14th in the world, 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. The U.S. will feel pressure to open with a win against Ghana, which is ranked 24th.
At the 2002 tournament, the U.S. opened with a 3-2 upset of Portugal.
Friday’s draw threw up plenty of other intriguing match-ups.
Defending champion Spain will play its opening game against the Netherlands, a repeat of the ill-tempered 2010 final.
Brazil starts its campaign for a sixth World Cup title with an opener against Croatia. Mexico and Cameroon were also drawn in the host nation’s group.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the only World Cup newcomer among the 32 teams, plays its opener against Argentina. Iran and Nigeria were also drawn in that Group F.
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are in Group C, with Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy in Group D.
One of the easiest groups on paper looked to be E, with Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras.
Russia, host of the next World Cup, is in Group H with Belgium, Algeria and Korea.