U.S. Loses But Advances to World Cup Knockout Stage
Despite falling to Germany, 1-0, the United States advanced to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup, finishing second in Group G with four points. Next up: The winner of Group H in Salvador.
BY John Godfrey PostedRECIFE, Brazil—Some might say that the United States men's soccer team backed in to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup, losing 1-0 to Germany but advancing thanks to Portugal's 2-1 victory over Ghana. It's doubtful that Jurgen Klinsmann or any of his 23 players care. The Americans survived the Group of Death, finishing second behind Germany and securing passage to the round of 16. "It's a huge achievement for our team to qualify in this group," Klinsmann said after the match. "I wish we would have created a little more chances and taken it to Germany a little more, but overall I am happy with the performance." It was a tense battle from start to finish, and the Americans nearly tied it in the game's dying moments, but a Thomas Muller strike proved the difference in the contest. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann benched two players who played poorly against Portugal on Sunday—central defender Geoff Cameron and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. Six-foot-five Omar Gonzalez, an adept header of the ball, replaced Cameron in defense, and Brad Davis, a left-footed player who specializes in crosses, supplanted Bedoya. Was that a hint? Was the U.S. planning to whip crosses into the German six-yard box and try to score that way? If so, Germany prevented them from doing so. In fact, Germany prevented the Americans from doing much of anything for the game's first 20 minutes. Joachim Low's team targeted DaMarcus Beasley early on, sending balls through Mesut Ozil and looking for leaks on the left side of the defense. Germany had the first real opportunity of the match in the eighth minute, when Lukas Podolski delivered a dangerous cross that was just a yard ahead of a sliding Thomas Muller. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard made a strong play to dive and hang on to the ball. Germany followed up with three more crosses in rapid succession, but could not convert. In the 11th minute the U.S. looked to break out on a counter, but German fullback Benedikt Howedes—a center back playing out of position—tripped the speedy Fabian Johnson and drew an early yellow card. Gonzalez justified his spot in the 14th minute, making a huge sliding tackle right in front of goal to thwart a dangerous German chance that came on the heels of some tidy combination play. Two minutes later, Gonzalez made another brilliant defensive play, timing his sliding tackle perfectly to break up an attempt on goal. After absorbing a tremendous amount of pressure in the first 20 minutes—FIFA stats said Germany had two-thirds of the ball—the U.S. started to establish a bit more possession. At the midway point of the first half, Jermaine Jones went on a 25-yard run to start a dangerous counter. The ball eventually found Graham Zusi on the left flank, but his curling right-footed shot flew a yard over the crossbar. If the players were told beforehand to sit back and play for a scoreless draw, they didn't follow orders. It was a chippy match, and both teams pushed to score. The game settled into a back-and-forth affair, with both sides pushing forward and getting decent chances. In th 32nd minute, Michael Bradley lofted a beautiful 30-yard pass to a streaking Jermaine Jones, but the ball skipped away from the American midfielder, who would have been in on goal by himself. Five minutes later Germany pressed forward on its own counter, and Omar Gonzalez earned a yellow card for blatantly tripping Bastian Schweinstager and slowing the attack. It was a smart play. As referee Ravshan Irmatov whistled to signal the end of the first half, Clint Dempsey and Schweinsteiger got into a heated conversation at the center circle. It wasn't clear what they were discussing, but it's safe to say they weren't exchanging recipes. Players from both teams came over to cool things down, and the 22 starters went to the locker room without further incident. The Americans received some good news in the locker room: Portugal had taken a 1-0 lead over Ghana. A low-scoring Portugal win would all but guarantee that the Americans advance to the knockout rounds, even if they lost to Germany. Once action resumed, Germany took possession first and nearly went ahead 90 seconds into the second half. A beautifully weighted cross flew into a dangerous position in the heart of the six-yard box, but Gonzalez rose above everybody else and headed the ball safely away. Gonzalez, a surprise starter, was having the game of his life. Michael Bradley rebounded from two subpar performances and played a strong game, harassing the Germany backline and midfielders, preventing them from pickout out easy passes. In the 54th minute Germany took the lead on Thomas Muller's right-footed strike into the far corner. His shot came on the heels of a fantastic save from Howard, but the batted-away show fell to an unmarked Muller, who scored his fourth goal of the tournament on a blistering 20-yard shot. At this point, with Portugal leading Ghana 1-0, the U.S. was still through to the next round. But then Ghana scored to tie things up. With one more Ghana goal, and if the score remained the same in Recife, the U.S. would be going home. Clearly, the U.S. had to press to score and control its own destiny. And it did. Though it risked exposure on the counter, the Americans pushed ahead, and when Kyle Beckerman intercepted a German pass in the midfield, it looked like the Yanks might score. But then Jones and Alejandro Bedoya, converging on the ball and looking to attack, collided violently and fell to the ground. The chance went away, and the players received medical attention. The pace of the game seemed to slow, and then some news from afar altered the mood in the stadium. Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo had scored against Ghana, giving his team a 2-1 lead and providing the United States with a cushion. If Portugal won 2-1, the U.S. would advance even if it lost to Germany by a 1-0 count. Did Klinsmann and his staff know about the advantageous score? "Yes, we were informed," Klinsmann said. "It kept me calm the last five minutes or so." The Americans appeared to know that they stood a very good chance to advance, but that didn't stop them from pressing to the very end. DeAndre Yedlin once again proved a revelation on the right side of midfield, playing solid defense and utilizing his speed to break down the German defense. Twice in stoppage time the Yanks nearly evened the score, but Bedoya's shot from inside the box was pushed wide, and then Dempsey's close-range header flew over the crossbar. At the final whistle, the Americans looked glum as they went to shake hands with their opponents. But then the Portugal match went final, and suddenly the bench players started leaping and celebrating with their worn out comrades. A few seconds later, the final score of the Portugal-Ghana game flashed on the jumbo screen, and the crowd erupted in chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" Although the U.S. had lost on the day, it had done enough in its first two games to escape the Group of Death, and advance. Klinsmann, for one, said he was looking forward to the more straightforward nature of the knockout stage: "There is a very clear picture in front of you," he said. "You've got to win the game. It's a good feeling." The next match will be in Salvador on July 1, against the team that finishes first in Group H. John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now. We will have much more on this match in the minutes, hours, and days ahead. Keep checking back, and tell is what you think below.
June 26, 2014
June 26, 2014