The USA soccer team had a lot of mathematical possibilities to advance in the World Cup before facing Germany on June 26. Of course, if the USA hadn't been burned so late in its last match, it would have secured its place in the World Cup knockout stage long ago. As such, the Americans could have faced their most heartbreaking soccer moment of all time if they were knocked out of second place in Group G, but they held after all despite a 1-0 loss to the Germans.
For a time in the second half of the USA-Germany and Portugal-Ghana matches, things looked dicey. The Americans had clearly been the worse team against the Germans, yet they clung to a scoreless tie until Thomas Mueller broke through in the 55'th minute. At around the same time, Ghana had evened their match with Portugal at 1-1, raising the possibility of elimination with one or two more bad breaks.
Ghana had already eliminated the USA from the World Cup directly in 2006 and 2010. If it defeated Portugal and if the Americans gave up one or two more goals to Germany, then Ghana would leap into second place on goal differential. Given that the Germans were taking control over the U.S. and that Portugal had nothing left to play for, the worst seemed just around the bend.
USA soccer fans could finally breathe easy in the 80'th minute, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo, of all people. Ronaldo destroyed the Americans with his cross kick to set up Portugal's last-second tying goal on June 22, which made America's World Cup route so dicey yesterday to begin with. But once Ronaldo scored Portugal's final goal himself, the U.S. could finally breathe easy.
Since Germany didn't need another goal and Ghana would have needed two in the final minutes to have a chance, the end of Group G play turned out to be anticlimactic. In the end, the Germans won the group with seven points, while the Americans and Portuguese finished with four each -- with the USA's even goal differential far ahead of Portugal's -3.
The Germans really sent the Americans through the World Cup with their 4-0 blowout of Portugal on June 16. They couldn't give USA soccer another gift with an upset loss, but America took what it could get -- namely another trip to the knockout stage after all.