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1) Germany: 4 points, +4 goal differential, 1-1-0
2) USA: 4 points, +1 goal differential, 1-1-0
3) Ghana: 1 point, - 1 goal differential, 0-1-1
4) Portugal: 1 point, - 4 goal differential, 0-1-1
USA vs Germany, 12 PM ET, Arena Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil
Ghana vs Portugal, 12 PM ET, Nacional, Brazilia, Brazil
What's At Stake
I think I am still coming down from that shocking ending between the United States and Portugal. The Americans were oh so close to defeating Portugal and advancing out of the group stage. A Michael Bradley miscue in the midfield led to a Cristiano Ronaldo ball into the box that found the head of a streaking Silvestre Varela, who beat Geoff Cameron to the spot in front of Tim Howard. Just like that, the game was tied. Thoughts of advancing through to the next round were put on hold as the US now have to play one more game against mighty Germany in order to move on.
But what the US can take away is that they were 30 seconds away from the best comeback win in their World Cup history. Actually, it would have been their first comeback win, so, yeah, best comeback. Going into their match against Germany, they are going to need to play flawless. They played great against Portugal, but a few lapses on defense cost them. But the good news is they only need a draw against Germany to advance. If you told me they were in this position going into the World Cup, I'd be crazy to turn it down. The only reason this hurts a bit is because of how close they were. The Americans need to move on from last match and just play like they are capable of, especially Michael Bradley, who has been a major letdown for the US thus far.
The Germans only need a draw as well to move on, just like the US. Both sides have said they are looking to win the match, as an outright winner would win the group and get an easier matchup in the round of sixteen. A wise man once said that you play to win the game. However, that could be a bunch of hooey. If this game is tied late, I wouldn't be surprised if both teams parked their respective buses in front of their keeper and played for the draw. It only makes sense, since a draw helps both sides equally. However, unless the US blowout the Germans and Ghana blasts Portugal - which both are highly unlikely - then the Germans are through to the next round thanks to their +4 goal differential at this point.
If the US don't go through, it will most likely be Ghana who takes their spot. FiveThirtyEight gives Ghana less than a 20% chance of moving on though, whereas the US are over 75%. Numbers aren't everything, but they definitely favor the American squad. Germany and Ghana played to a 2-2 draw last match and Ghana looked dangerous, so I wouldn't rule out the possibility that they have a similar result against Portugal that the Germans did. The Ghanaians need a win and will come out guns blazing. Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan have been very impressive for Ghana. Look for them to play their best games of the tournament.
Then we come to Portugal, who really put themselves into a hole with their 4-0 opening match loss to the Germans. Although they managed to draw the Americans, they really needed a win to have any hopes of advancing. Their (- 4) goal differential makes moving on highly unlikely, as they need to blow out Ghana and have Germany blow out the US. Making things difficult, Cristiano Ronaldo has not seemed 100% healthy for Portugal this tournament and their back line has leaked time and again, surrendering a total of 6 goals in their two games. Pepe is back after missing last game because of a red card in their opening game, so maybe his tough presence helps the Portuguese play more cohesively. Ultimately though, today will be their last game of the 2014 World Cup. Ronaldo will go home to this though, so don't feel too badly.
Go Go USA
This is America, so allow me the opportunity to discuss our national team for a second. Under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the US have progressed in soccer since their last appearance in the World Cup and are on the precipice of advancing out of the group stage for a second straight time. If the US do advance on, it would mark the first time in their history that they advance out of the group stage in consecutive World Cups. That's a positive sign that soccer is picking up in America. Also positive, the ratings for the US/Portugal game. Here are a few points on today's juggernaut of a match:
The Manaus Factor
It's no secret the stadium in the Amazonian rainforest is hot and humid and has giant moths. There have been 3 games played in Manaus thus far in the World Cup. England vs Italy and Cameroon vs Croatia were the two before the USA vs Portugal game. The four previous teams all lost their next match after playing in the humidity in Manaus and all of them had more than the three days off the US are going to have. Heck, the Italians had five days off and looked putrid against Costa Rica. This is a sign that does not bode well for the Americans against a German team that has an extra day of rest and far less distance to travel for this upcoming match.
The Michael Bradley Conundrum
It's also no secret, Michael Bradley is having a tough World Cup. Although Clint Dempsey was named the captain and is the most mainstream player on this roster, Bradley was highly considered as the most talented player on the squad. He plays a tough, hard-nosed style in the midfield and has an unrelenting motor. Most importantly, he plays smart. That's why his struggles are so surprising.
In the first game, Bradley could have killed the clock if only he dribbled into the corner. Instead, he kicked it to the Ghanaian goalkeeper, giving Ghana one more crack at tying the game. He had the same sort of opportunity against Portugal. The ball was on his foot at midfield and he could have done any number of actions. Instead, he held onto the ball too long and turned it over, giving the Portuguese one final shot at tying it up. Unfortunately, the Americans were not as lucky and Portugal scored. He is normally the guy you want to have the ball at the end of a pivotal match and I am sure it is eating him inside and out about how he's played.
His struggles were also evident when he failed to score at what was essentially an empty net. He managed to hit the lone Portuguese defender in front of the goal. It's been a tough go, but if any player can pick up their play after some poor games, it's Michael Bradley.
Key Player: Fabian Johnson
Remember that guy who was constantly running up the right side of the pitch against Portugal? Causing havoc and creating chances? That player was right back Fabian Johnson and boy did he look great. A repeat performance like that against the Germans makes the Americans very dangerous.
Surprise Player(s): Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones.
First, Beckerman. At 32, he is a career MLS player who has had a nice career, but has never been what you call a star. Most people even remember him only because of his hair. But Beckerman has proven to be a defensive stalwart in the midfield. His tackles have been crisp and clean and his pace unrelenting. If you want to go through the midfield, you have to go through Kyle Beckerman first.
Then there's Jermaine Jones. Also aged at 32, he is one of the players Klinsmann specifically targeted: German-American. His style of play is something that Klinsmann wanted on the team and, like Beckerman, he was a questionable selection to some. However, on the biggest stage imaginable, Jones is playing some of the best football of his life. His goal against Portugal was a thing of beauty.
Both of these players are playing in their first World Cups at 32. It means a lot to them and it has clearly made them more focused and determined, as both are playing outstanding. I questioned them when Klinsmann had them make cut after cut, but I am not going to question them anymore. These men came to Brazil to play, and if all goes well today, they live to play another day.
Who Will Advance?
Germany and United States.
Germany is all but guaranteed a spot, but the US surely aren't. They need the right result to move on. A win or a draw against Germany is tough, but I have liked what I've seen from this squad. They seem resilient and I see them going through on their own validity and without needing a result from Ghana/Portugal. The Germans didn't do the Americans any favors by drawing with Ghana though. A win by Germany in that match would have eliminated Ghana, which would have made the United States' entry into the round of sixteen all but guaranteed. Either way, they still control their own destiny, which is really all you can ask for in sports.
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