MANAUS, Brazil -- It’s known as the “Schande von Gijón” – German for the “Disgrace of Gijón” – and it was on the minds of many at the Arena da Amazônia on Sunday evening, some 32 years after it occurred.
Gijón, a coastal city in northwest Spain, was the site of a 1982 World Cup match between then-West Germany and Austria that played a role in altering the way the tournament is structured. The neighbors entered the group-stage finale knowing that a one- or two-goal win by the Germans would see them both progress to the second round at the expense of upstart Algeria, which defeated Chile the day before.
Germany’s Horst Hrubesch scored in the 10th minute in Gijón and after that, famously, nothing happened. Both teams closed up shop and waited for the final whistle. Fans at the Estadio El Molinón protested, waving money or handkerchiefs at the players. According to The Guardian, German commentator Eberhard Stanjek told ARD viewers, “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you like, but not every end justifies the means,” while his Austrian counterpart implored his audience to turn off their TVs.
Now, the final games in a given World Cup group are scheduled simultaneously in order to minimize the advantage the Germans and Austrians enjoyed and exploited that day. But the U.S. and Germany, who play their Group G finale on Thursday in Recife, don’t need to know what’s going on elsewhere. Following the wild 2-2 draw between the U.S. and Portugal here in the Amazon, the U.S.needs only a tie to confirm passage to the knockout rounds. Germany needs the same.
From there, it’s a slippery slope toward cynicism. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is a German native who won a World Cup and European Championship for his country and then coached it at the 2006 World Cup. His assistant and successor, Joachim Löw, remains in charge of Die Mannschaft. There are five German-American players on the U.S., four of whom are on the books at Bundesliga clubs. The ties are strong.
But, even after yielding a devastating 95th-minute goal that cost them a chance to clinch an early second-round berth, the U.S. players and their manager insisted Sunday that their will to win is stronger. There will be no collusion and no surrender. There will be no “Schande von Recife.”
In his post-game press conference, Klinsmann spoke like a man who’s been living in the U.S. for nearly 15 years.
“You're talking about a game that is decades away, that is only part of German history, not the United States,” he said, referencing the match in Gijón. “The United States is known to give everything they have in every single game.”
Those are not empty words. It’s not marketing. The U.S. has proven that it plays to win, even when it doesn’t have to. In 2009, the Americans scored twice in the final 20 minutes to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, and knock the Ticos from an automatic berth in the 2010 World Cup to a playoff it eventually lost to Uruguay. The U.S. had qualified a few days earlier.
Last October, Klinsmann’s team knew that a loss in a meaningless qualifier in Panama would eliminate arch-rival Mexico from the World Cup. Few would have blamed the U.S. for lifting their foot from the gas in stoppage time when trailing by a goal. Then Graham Zusi and Aron Jóhannsson scored in the 92nd and 93rd minutes, respectively, altering the fate of two other teams while confirming the character of theirs.
“When you look back at the history of this team, it’s a team that steps on the field every day, every night, to win,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Whether it’s Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in 2009 when we were already qualified for the World Cup, whether it was last year in Panama, it’s a team that takes great pride in stepping on the field the right way and playing the right way and representing ourselves and everybody in our country in a positive way.”
Kyle Beckerman said that even a win over Portugal and a round-of-16 guarantee would not have changed the U.S. approach against Germany.
“We’re going to go and try to win the last game if we would have qualified tonight,” he said. “It’s just our nature. It’s the American way. We’re going to go and fight. Nobody wants to see us go lay down and lose.”
The U.S. could pay a price for pushing too hard for a win. Finishing first in Group G likely will result in a second-round game against Algeria or Russia, which are far more manageable opponents than Group H leader Belgium. But the Americans have to focus on advancing, not on what happens afterward, and need to be aware that a loss on Thursday may open the door for the winner of the Ghana-Portugal game. The Black Stars have the inside track thanks to their superior goal differential.
Nevertheless, the Americans intend to play the game in front of them. Klinsmann may hail from suburban Stuttgart, but he was hired by U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati to mount an assault on the game’s elite and no country apart from Brazil has bluer blood than Germany, which has appeared in a record-tying seven World Cup finals and won three. Defeating Die Mannschaft at a World Cup would be historic. Klinsmann said that Löw is “doing his job,” and that the friends and former colleagues had no plans to speak this week.
“No, we’re not going to have a call between Jogi and Jurgen, [Deutscher Fussball-Bund president] Wolfgang Niersbach and me or any other combination of those people,” Gulati said Sunday night. “That’s not the way the U.S. plays.”
The Americans will have one fewer day of rest than Germany and were scheduled to train in Sao Paulo on Monday before heading north to Recife. Recovering from two very difficult games, both of which came down to the wire and the second of which was played in humid, taxing conditions, presents a challenge. But it’s a challenge that Klinsmann embraces. Progress can’t be measured by going less than full speed.
“We have that fighting spirit. We have that energy and that determination to do well in every single game,” Klinsmann said. “So we’re going to go into Recife very ambitious, with a lot of confidence, to beat Germany. This is our goal and then we’ll see what happens on the field.”
And if it’s a draw, there will be no apologies. The U.S. has secured the benefit of the doubt.
“We’ve earned the right to draw the game. Over the course of two game we have four points," Bradley said. “Regardless of who we’re playing … we’ve earned the right to draw.”