The United States came up short against Germany in a rain-soaked Recife, but the bigger story was a realization of one of the greatest achievements in the history of U.S. soccer as Jurgen Klinsmann’s team survived the "Group of Death" to take their place in the Round of 16 of the World Cup.
Thomas Müller’s goal early in the second half left a physically drained U.S. side unable to produce a response to keep their fate in their own hands. Going into the match at least a draw was required to guarantee joining Germany in progressing out of Group G. As it was, all eyes were turned toward the other final game in the section where Cristiano Ronaldo did the U.S. a huge favor by halting hopes of a Ghana victory with a 2-1 win for Portugal that ultimately saw both teams fall victim to what was regarded as the World Cup’s most competitive group.
While they were running on empty on Thursday, few could dispute the merit of the U.S. moving forward. A last-gasp win handed to them by John Brooks’s header proved crucial in getting the better of Ghana both on the night and in the group. While an even later goal against the U.S. for Portugal halted American celebrations, it proved only a temporary setback.
The U.S., which has got into the second round in back-to-back World Cups for the first time in their history, now goes onto take on the winners of Group H, likely to be against Belgium, next Tuesday. Meanwhile, Germany, who fulfilled expectations by topping the group with seven points, will take on the runner-ups in Group H a day earlier.
There had been much talk ahead of the game of whether there would be something of a deal struck between Germany coach Joachim Löw and his counterpart, who just so happened to be his compatriot and the man he assisted at the 2006 World Cup. But from the off, it was clear that a convenient draw that would secure both teams’ progress was not on the agenda.
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The U.S. came under heavy siege early on. Brad Davis, who had come into the side in place of Alejandro Bedoya, was having a hard time tracking the runs of German right-back Jerome Boateng. A flurry of early crosses came in, with the man who was selected ahead of Geoff Cameron in Klinsmann’s only other change, Omar Gonzalez, under pressure. The LA Galaxy center-back looked nervous initially, swiping at a clearance that could have gone anywhere. But he then did excellently to prevent Müller from getting ahead of him to finish in the middle.
After the early pressure, the U.S. crucially managed to garner some possession and even muster a few counter-attacks, the best one leading to a shot curled over the bar by Graham Zusi. The start of the second-half, though, bought a further heightening of the intensity from Germany.
Having had so many crosses in the first half, but few players in the middle to capitalize, Miroslav Klose came on for Lukas Podolski, disappointing in his first start of the competition, at half time. Klose had a chance to become the World Cup’s outright all-time leading scorer, but just couldn’t stretch enough onto Bastian Schweinsteiger’s slightly over hit chipped cross.
In the 55th minute, Germany finally secured a deserved lead. Tim Howard parried Per Mertesacker’s low header from a corner back out to the edge of the box and then could no nothing to stop a superbly controlled side-footed strike from Müller soaring past him into the corner.
That goal suddenly took on a far more significant air when Ghana equalized against Portugal just a couple of minutes later. At that point, one more goal and they were incredibly sending the U.S. home for the third successive World Cup.
The U.S. appeared powerless to help themselves. After a draining 90 minutes-plus in the heat and humidity of Manaus just four days ago and having had a day’s less rest than their opponents, Klinsmann’s mean looked to have little left. As against Ghana, the U.S. struggled to maintain possession for long spells, something which will surely be a concern for Klinsmann going forward.
Coupled with Germany being relatively content with a narrow lead that left them comfortable as top dogs in the group, the match became an increasingly scrappy affair. To much relief, Portugal’s go-ahead goal in Brasilia rendered events in Recife immaterial. Still, the U.S. so nearly produced an equalizer when Clint Dempsey headed over in a sign of the admirable spirit that has played such a big part in carrying them through to take their place among the world’s elite 16.