[BRAZIL 2014]You don't have to cover international soccer for a long time before you learn the European press loves to spread conspiracy theories. Let's rephrase that. They actually believe their conspiracy theories. So it was not surprising that Sunday's press conference following the USA's 2-2 game with Portugal got hijacked by questions from about the USA and Germany playing for a tie on Thursday.
Forget the fact that there are multiple paths to the round of 16 for both teams -- and Germany is likely through to the next round no matter what happens on Thursday -- the focus of attention was on a USA-Germany tie, which will guarantee both teams advance.
What's fueled the talk are the many connections between the Germany and U.S. national teams.
-- U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann won the World Cup as a player for Germany and coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup. German coach Joachim Loew was Klinsmann's assistant in 2006.
-- Jermaine Jones played for the German national team before switching allegiances. He's said he'd not celebrate if he scored against Germany out of respect of Loew, who gave him a chance on the national team. (He may have to change those plans now.)
-- Fabian Johnson started on Germany's 2009 European under-21 championship team alongside six starters on Germany's World Cup team: Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.
-- John Brooks and Julian Green both played for German youth national teams and only committed to the USA in the last year. Timmy Chandler is a fifth German-American who plays in the Bundesliga.
But what is really fueling speculation about the USA and Germany playing for a result that accommodates both teams is that it has happened before at the World Cup.
In 1982, West Germany and Austria played in what is known as the "Gijon non-aggression pact" or "Disgrace of Gijon." Gijon's Estadio El Molinon was the venue of the final group match at Espana 1982. They had met four years earlier in Argentina, where Austria stunned the then-reigning World Cup champions, 3-2, knocking them out of the tournament. But this time they found themselves in the unusual position of playing with the knowledge of what they would have to do to advance ahead of Algeria, which had played its last group game the day before.
A West Germany win by one or two goals would send both teams into the second group stage. Otherwise, one of them would be eliminated, and Algeria (which had shocked West Germany, 2-1, in their first match) would become the first African team to advance out of the group stage. And after West Germany took the lead on a 10th-minute goal by Horst Hrubesch (more recently the German U-21 coach of Johnson and Brooks), both teams stopped playing. Sure, they passed the ball around, but neither team hardly bothered to attack.
"You will allow me not comment on the action on the field because what is on offer is a disgrace," the ARD commentator Eberhard Stanjek told his German viewers. "You cannot describe this as soccer. This has nothing to do with a World Cup game."
The Algerian fans in the stadium began burning their pesetas. When the game ended 1-0 for West Germany, both teams left the field to the deafening sound of whistles. West Germany went on to lose in the final to Italy; Austria has never made it out of the group stage since then. And in response to what happened in Gijon that FIFA introduced the practice of playing final group matches concurrently.
Klinsmann, who was 17 when the game was played, says the USA has no connection to the game.
“I think you’re talking about a game that is decades away that is only part of Germany’s history and not the United States'," he said on Sunday night in Manaus. "The United States is known to give everything they have in every single game. If you look at the past, we made things happen, otherwise Mexico wouldn’t be here or that last World Cup when we did the same thing with a team that went into the World Cup. We have that fighting spirit and that energy, that determination to do well in every single game. So, we’re going to go into Recife very ambitious with a lot of confidence to beat Germany. This is our goal. Then we’ll see what happens on the field. I’m actually pretty confident that we’re going to get a good game there.”
Still, the questions kept on coming, in large part because of the relationship between Klinsmann and Loew.
“Jogi’s doing his job," Klinsmann said. "We are good friends and I do my job. My job is to get everything done to make us go into the round of 16 -- that’s what I’m going to do. There’s no time right now to have friendship calls. It’s about business now.”