Unattractive, maybe, but not undeserved. The U.S. national men’s soccer team advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup on Thursday despite losing to Germany. The U.S. withstood a German onslaught that yielded just one goal — Thomas Mueller’s perfectly placed shot from 18 yards in the 55th minute.
The 1-0 loss, combined with Portugal’s 2-1 win over a dissent-wracked Ghana team, means that the U.S. advances based on goal differential. The U.S. will most likely play Belgium, a team that is loaded with talent.
Continuing his penchant for surprises, U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann made two changes to the lineup that played against Portugal. Central defender Omar Gonzales, who had lost favor going into the tournament, was called in to replace Geoff Cameron, whose mistakes had cost the team the win over Portugal. He also dropped Alejandro Bedoya for Brad Davis in midfield. The choice of the 6-ft. 4-in. Gonzales proved another good one, as his ability in the air was critical to keeping Germany off the scoreboard in the first
“It really kick-started his tournament,” Klinsmann said. “He was ready for it.”
The game was played in a soaking rainstorm, and the sodden pitch may have slowed down a U.S. team already heavy-legged from playing in Manaus. Germany dominated ball possession, 60% to 40% in the first half, as the U.S. continued to give away passes. Midfielders Jermaine Jones, who put in another monster performance, and Kyle Beckerman were forced to work overtime to recover lost balls.
The first U.S. shot of any significance didn’t come until 22 minutes into the game when Graham Zusi’s blast from the left side of the box fizzed over. But those opportunities were few because of the lack of possession.
The U.S. would pay the price in the 55th minute when Germany, after working a short corner kick play, launched a cross into the box that was headed on goal by Benedikt Hoewedes, and parried by U.S. goalie Tim Howard. Mueller collected that rebound, loaded and fired. For just a few minutes, the U.S. looked like it was going to fall apart.
But in Brasília, where Ghana played Portugal, the weather was better and the news brighter. Ghana had given up an own goal to Portugal, and in the crazy calculations that determine which teams advance in case they are tied on points, Portugal would have to score four more to get past the U.S. if the Americans had a one-goal loss. Ghana knotted that game at 1-1 in the 57th minute — more good news because in case of the draw the U.S. advanced too. And when Portugal went ahead in the 80th minute, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo, all looked good for the U.S. cause.
Klinsmann and his staff had been monitoring that match and could sense that Portugal wasn’t going to be able to add to its total. “It kind of calmed me down in the last five minutes,” he said.
Indeed, the U.S. almost grabbed a late equalizer when Bedoya’s goalward header was blocked by Thomas Lahm in the dying seconds. It would have been a just reward for the U.S. effort through the first round. Instead, the reward will be a match against a Belgium team that is loaded with starts such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany. There can be no winning-by-losing this time.
“It’s a knockout,” noted Klinsmann. “You gotta win the game, no matter how.”