Never have American soccer fans been more excited for a 1-0 defeat. The United States may have lost in their final World Cup game against Germany, but they got a little help from Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, who beat Ghana 2-1. With that result, the Americans now advance on goal differential to the knockout stages of the tournament, which they’ve now reached in two consecutive World Cups.
They did not get the win against Portugal a few days earlier, which would have automatically secured their spot in the round of 16. A tie in the World Cup against Cristiano Ronaldo and fourth ranked Portugal would be a great result under different circumstances, though the Americans outplayed the Portuguese despite the two costly mistakes. The Americans, however, couldn’t be allowed to hang their heads against Germany; any lack of confidence would prove to be catastrophic in their final group stage game. And even if the U.S. lost to the high octane Germans, it wouldn’t necessarily mean their tournament would be over.
Heading into the match, there were many possible scenarios for the U.S. to advance to the round of 16. A win or draw in their final game would mean automatic qualification, as would a Ghana loss or tie. A loss wouldn’t have ruled them out, but a multiple-goal win by Ghana or a four-or-more-goal win by Portugal in the other game of the group would have sent them back stateside. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear to the press ahead of the match that the U.S. would not settle for a draw or a loss if they could avoid it.
The first 20 minutes or so of the match was played in the American half. Germany dominated the majority of possession early on and seemed as if they were going to put multiple goals on the scoreboard. Had it not been raining, this likely would have been the case. Still, the American defense held valiant, as there were always at least two white shirts in the middle of the penalty area at all times. This defensive tactic caused the Germans to force the ball out wide and feed in crosses to the middle, but goalie Tim Howard snuffed them out and prevented the Germans from scoring.
The USA attack, meanwhile, was short lived early on. A quick burst of energy down the line or long pass was easily broken up by Germany’s defense. When they had long spells of possession, the Yanks were able to build up play but not a threatening attack. The blazing runs from Fabian Johnson from right back, which were so effective during the first two games, were well defended on the wing.
America’s best first half chances came off the counter attack. A strong, bursting run from Jermaine Jones followed by a string of passes nearly saw a goal from winger Graham Zusi, but his lightning crack of a shot went just high. After a sluggish start on their heels, the Yanks exploited the German’s high defensive line and were able to create quality chances.
The first half game plan for the U.S. worked brilliantly. They frustrated the German attack, Bastian Schweinsteiger in particular, made them force the ball out wide, disrupted the through balls and kept the ball away from Howard and the American goal mouth. Germany was able to get a few shots on frame in the first half, but Howard made the saves each time.
Germany’s Miroslav Klose was subbed in at halftime, seemingly poised to become the all-time leading scorer in World Cup history, and much like the first half, Germany pressed the attack early and often, again coming from crosses into the box. With the crosses coming in, the server often went undefended which caused the U.S defense to frantically get the ball out of the box any way they could.
As most of the soccer world suspected, Germany broke the deadlock in the 55th minute. Howard was able to make a brilliant first save on a header off a German corner kick, but there wasn’t much he could do off the beautifully placed rebound shot from Thomas Muller, who netted his fourth goal of the tournament. In another unfortunate occurrence, news came in moments later that Ghana had scored an equalizer against Portugal. A sense of urgency ensued as the Americans continued to play on their heels.
On the best attacking opportunity of the second half, American teammates Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya collided with one another right outside the goal area. Not only was it a wasted opportunity for the U.S. - and probably the best chance of the game up to that point - but resulted in Jones requiring medical attention on the sidelines. The Yanks would not have one of their best players on their World Cup roster for another few minutes.
In the 80th minute, a raucous eruption of cheers came from the American fans. Nothing happened in the game in front of them, but Cristiano Ronaldo had scored against Ghana 1,283 miles away in Brasilia. 1-0 Germany, 2-1 Portugal. If the results held, the United States would advance. In the end, they got a spurt of good luck that they needed to advance to the next stage of the World Cup
In stoppage time, the U.S. side not only showed the resiliency the country is famous for. Following two quick passes in their own half, America was threatening, as Jermaine Jones, who has been the best player for the United States without much argument, laid the ball off to a wide open Bedoya. His one-timer was headed for goal, but was blocked by Philipp Lahm at the last moment.
In the 93rd minute of play, they finally got a shot on goal, and Clint Dempsey nearly scored on a header moments later. The Yanks fought through fatigue, found that extra speed late and nearly equalized. They also exploited Germany’s slow, tired defense at a time when it mattered most.
In the end, Germany was the better team. The U.S. played admirably, especially on the defensive end of the field, but the Germans secured 63 percent of possession and outshot the Americans 13-4; in fact, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer didn’t even have to make a single save. Germany is one of the best soccer countries on the globe, and they may be en route to their 16th consecutive quarterfinal appearance and fourth World Cup trophy. If you need further proof of their soccer dominance, take a look at how many players on the U.S. team hold dual citizenship and grew up in Germany.
As the runners up in Group G, the United States will face Belgium in their second round match. The two teams played in a friendly in May of last year, where Belgium beat the Americans handily 4-2. Of the five games the U.S. has played against the Belgians, they’ve won only once. History is not on the American’s side, though they were able to sneak past Ghana 2-1 in this tournament, a team that has eliminated the U.S. in the previous two World Cups; and in the group of death no less. The do-or-die game against Belgium kicks off on Tuesday, July 1 in Salvador.