Silvestre Varela’s last-gasp header past Tim Howard in Manaus was one of the most agonizing moments in the history of the United States men’s national team. Silvestre Varela’s last-gasp header past Tim Howard in Manaus was simply a drama-enhancing roadblock en route to one of U.S. soccer’s greatest ever achievements. One of these statements will be true; which one will be discovered on a balmy Thursday afternoon in Recife.
Had the U.S. held on to a 2-1 lead against Portugal for just another 30 seconds they would have sensationally secured progress out of a group regarded by many of the most competitive of the World Cup with a game to spare. A much-anticipated final match against Germany, and all that entails, could be approached with a fair degree of relaxation. As it is, the U.S. now takes on the native country of coach Jürgen Klinsmann needing a point to be sure of progressing to the Round of 16 in back-to-back World Cups for the first time in the country’s history.
It is possible that the U.S. could lose and still make it through, even if there is a winner in the concurrent final game between Ghana and Portugal. But Klinsmann will be fully aware of the dangers of his team relying on anyone but themselves. So far in Brazil, they have showed that getting a result against a major nation should hold no fear.
An opening win over Ghana showed tremendous resiliency, if lacking the quality that Klinsmann has focused on developing in his three years in charge of a country that he has called home for the best part of the last 16 years. Against Portugal, in contrast to that opening game when Clint Dempsey’s goal gave them a lead inside 30 seconds, it was the U.S. who trailed for much of the encounter. Behind on the score sheet maybe, but they were superior to their counterparts, including Cristiano Ronaldo, for the bulk of the 90 minutes.
The U.S., despite being hampered by the absence of key striker Jozy Altidore, took the game to its higher-ranked opponents and few could have any qualms when they established a 2-1 lead late on. Still, an injury-time goal by Varela means that the U.S. will have to do it all again, and perhaps even better, in order to get a positive result against Germany.
Unfortunately for U.S. hopes, it will be a Germany side also unable to relax. They will need a point to be sure of progress and will want to win in order to ensure they do so as winners of the group and, in theory, attain a simpler path in the Round of 16.
For coach Joachim Löw, the deputy to Klinsmann as Germany reached the semifinals of the World Cup on home soil in 2006, there is also the incentive of getting his team back on track after a minor blip against Ghana. Although hampered by a series of unfortunate injuries in the buildup to the competition, this is a team that carries expectations of going all the way in Brazil. For a country that has won the World Cup and European Championships three times apiece, their recent reputation of being the nearly men of international soccer -- three semifinals and two finals in the last five major tournaments -- does not sit well.
A Ghana side with so much pace on the counter-attack exposed Germany’s weakness in transition and in their back line. They were particularly vulnerable down the left where Benedikt Höwedes has become Germany’s latest unconvincing solution to their problematic left-back position. That will surely have encouraged Klinsmann and his marauding right-back Fabian Johnson.
Johnson was the best player on the pitch against Portugal, with his ability going forward a repeated threat against a team that had little cover in that area. Without great pace further forward, due to the continued absence of Altidore, Johnson’s ability to attack down the flank will be key.
Of course, the U.S. will face plenty of challenges of their own at the other end. Germany produced one of the best attacking performances of the tournament thus far in dismissing Portugal 4-0 in their opening game. Despite Miroslav Klose coming off the bench to score a goal that made him the joint-leading scorer in the history of the World Cup against Ghana, Löw is again likely to start without a natural striker. The movement of Thomas Müller, supported by the guile and fluidity of his Bayern Munich teammate Mario Götze and Arsenal’s Mesut Özil will present the U.S. defense with the type of problems that they have seldom encountered.
Expect Klinsmann to again deal with the loss of Altidore by reinforcing his midfield. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones will screen the defense behind a line of three of Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi. All must have exceptional games considering the strength of Germany’s midfield trio of Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira.
There is ample reason to think that the U.S. can pull off the draw they crave. Germany have allowed both their opponents several chances in transition so far, while there may be some fatigue in what will be their third afternoon match in the heat and humidity of the north of Brazil.
As a result Germany will control possession and will try to do likewise with the tempo. The U.S. must try to threaten on the break at pace, but, especially without Altidore, they lack the same weapons as Ghana. There is also the issue of their mentality, as they go into the game with the knowledge that a draw will do. Against Ghana the U.S. became far too passive when ahead, before being rejuvenated when their opponents got level. When taking on Portugal, they began slowly until being enlivened after going behind.
The U.S. is certainly capable of resisting Germany for long spells by packing the center of the pitch, but eventually their quality in the final third should tell to leave Klinsmann and his squad reliant on the result elsewhere going in their favor.
Germany 2-1 USA
Betting odds (bovada.lv)
Germany win: 20/33
USA win: 15/2
Where to watch: The 2014 World Cup Group G match will kick off from the Arena Pernambuco in Recife at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN.