Group Analysis: The logical outcome of this well-balanced group is for Italy to get off to a typically slow start and still finish atop the standings; the Czech Republic to flex its muscles; the United States to fight gallantly; and Ghana to play an entertaining style that leaves it exposed defensively. But no one thought much of the Americans the last time around and they stunned Portugal, setting the tone for a wild group outcome.

Ghana is another team that cannot be taken lightly, even though its World Cup inexperience could ultimately doom its efforts. Serbian Coach Ratomir Dujkovic has the Black Stars playing well and star midfielder Michael Essien played so well in France that he was acquired this summer by Chelsea.

The Czechs' fate could hang on the recovery of star forward Jan Koller from a major knee injury he suffered while with Germany's Borussia Dortmund this fall.

The United States will not be intimidated by either European opponent and, if it can achieve a tie in one of those matches, it could head into the Ghana match knowing a victory will send it through to the second round. Boosting the American efforts will be a large number of internationally seasoned players, some of whom have played professionally in Germany.

No one will be counted on more than goalkeeper Kasey Keller. The U.S. team got a huge boost from Brad Friedel's work in group play in 2002 as he almost single-handedly provided a tie against South Korea, and a similar effort by Keller will be essential.

Group Strength Rank: 2