RECIFE, Brazil — On a wild final day in Group G, the U.S. managed to advance to the Round of 16 despite a 1-0 loss to Germany, thanks to Portugal’s 2-1 win against Ghana. It’s the first time in U.S. history that the Americans have advanced beyond the World Cup group stage in two straight tournaments.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
The U.S. advances — barely
If you’re a U.S. fan, you had a sick feeling deep in the pit of your stomach from the 57th minute on in this game. That was when Ghana scored against Portugal to tie the game at 1-1 just a few moments after the U.S. had gone down to Germany 1-0 on Thomas Müller’s laser-beam goal. It meant that Ghana was only one more goal away from knocking the U.S. out of the World Cup.
These are the moments that make this sport more painful and wonderful than any other, the moments that go down in a nation’s sporting history books. And when Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the 81st minute of the U.S. game, the Americans got some breathing room thanks to the reigning world player of the year.
While the U.S. will be angry that it didn’t succeed in controlling its own destiny in advancing by getting a tie or a win, there are no style points in the World Cup. What’s more, the U.S. earned its margin for error with its performances in the first two games. Bottom line: The U.S. has survived the Group of Death and is through to the round of 16, likely to face Belgium on Tuesday in Salvador, and everything starts over now. The first goal of this tournament has been achieved.
What comes next for the U.S.?
By finishing second in Group G, the U.S. has earned a date in Salvador on Tuesday with the winner of Group H, likely to be Belgium, but it could possibly be Algeria. If it’s Belgium, the Red Devils won’t be easy. They have one of the most talented young rosters in the world, with players who compete in Europe’s top leagues. They also beat the U.S. resoundingly 4-2 in a friendly in Cleveland last year. But the Belgians haven’t been in their best form in this tournament, advancing in an easy group, and they are not invincible. If the U.S. were to win its round of 16 game, it would face the winner of Argentina-Switzerland in the quarterfinals.
A few other thoughts
Michael Bradley had another tough game, both in the heaviness of his touches and the lateness in some of his tackles … The U.S. will welcome the four days of rest ahead, since most of them looked (quite reasonably) exhausted by the end here … Tim Howard came up huge on several occasions … The U.S. contained well for most of this game but barely threatened on the attacking end. The U.S. finished with four shots and zero shots on goal … This game reminded me a lot of the final group game in World Cup 2002, when the U.S., on four points, got smacked 3-1 by Poland and needed South Korea to beat Portugal in the other game that was going on at the same time. Finally, late in that game Park Ji-Sung scored the goal for the Koreans that eliminated Portugal and allowed the U.S. to advance to the Round of 16 despite losing. That U.S. team rebounded to beat Mexico in the second-round game, the biggest U.S. World Cup win in the modern era and reach the World Cup quarterfinals. Long story short: Just because the U.S. tied and lost its last two group games didn’t keep the team from coming back to do something historic.