For a World Cup that’s being widely touted as the most entertaining ever, the drama will ramp up one notch higher on Thursday (12:00pm ET) when the United States face Germany in Recife and Ghana play Portugal in Brasilia to determine who will advance out of Group G.
The high-quality displays, bravery, spirit and gut-wrenching drama have made the US the darlings of this tournament but whether those characteristics will be enough to see the Americans through to the Round of 16, however, remains to be seen.
After substitute defender John Anthony Brooks disposed of arch-nemesis Ghana with a thumping 86th minute header to win the opener 2-1, the Yanks took their no-nonsense style to a Portugal side ranked 4th in the world, drawing 2-2 after Selecção forward Silvestre Varela scored in the fifth and final minute of injury time.
It’s no time for back-patting, however, because tomorrow Jurgen Klinsmann’s side faces its biggest challenge yet in world #2, Germany. With one of the deepest, most talent-laced squads in the world, Die Mannschaft is many-a-pundit’s favorite to hoist the cup come July. After a Thomas Muller hat-trick helped them comprehensively destroy Portugal 4-0 in the opener the Germans fought to a shock 2-2 draw with Ghana in the second match, proving themselves incapable of handling the athleticism and audaciousness of the Black Stars.
Now, with the US and Germany locked at four points apiece and Portugal and Ghana each on a single point heading into the final match of the group stage, it truly is all to play for. The scenarios to advance vary wildly.
The clearest path to advancing for the US is by beating Germany, making them Group G winners who would take on the runner-up of Group H in the Round of 16, or drawing, putting them runners-up to face the winner of Group H. A loss to Germany, however, could also see the Americans through so long as a) Ghana and Portugal draw, b) Portugal wins but don’t pass the US in goal differential, or c) Ghana win by one goal in which they don’t score two more goals than the US.
Germany, on the other hand, will advance as Group G winners with a win or draw against the US, or as Group G runners-up if they lose and either Ghana-Portugal draw, or if the Ghana-Portugal winner does not pass Germany in goal differential.
Given these scenarios, that the US have five players born to American fathers and German mothers, and Klinsmann being German and having won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany, it’s impossible to ignore the whispers of conspiracy where a draw would take both sides through.
But both sides are adamant that won’t be the case.
“I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group,” Klinsmann said when posed the question following Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Portugal. Germany defender Mats Hummels echoed the sentiment, saying, ”[i]t would be highly unsportsmanlike and unfair to other teams if anyone on the pitch had such thoughts.”
With rumors of collusion cast aside the focus can remain on the pitch. Germany is expected to play a similar team that started against Ghana with Manuel Neuer behind a back four of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Howedes, a midfield three of Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Phillip Lahm and an attacking three of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and the in-form Muller. Don’t be surprised, however, if Lahm moves back to his favored full-back slot, Howedes exits, and Bastian Schweinsteiger comes into the midfield.
Likewise, the US is expected to adopt the same 4-2-3-1 formation it set out against Portugal with Tim Howard behind a back four of DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson, a holding pair of Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, an attacking three of Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya, with Clint Dempsey the lone striker. Jozy Altidore, who injured his hamstring in the opening match against Ghana, remains out.
The two sides memorably met in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal in South Korea where Germany won 1-0 on a 39th minute header by Michael Ballack. It’s a result that haunts Americans after a fantastic display went unrewarded after Gregg Berhalter’s 50th minute shot was deflected by Oliver Kahn onto the hand of Torsten Frings but no penalty was given.
For Americans it was a match that has lived in infamy and now, twelve years later, the opportunity for revenge has finally arrived. Game on.