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USA conquers Group of Death hurdle
by Ridge Mahoney, June 26th, 2014 3:43PM

TAGS:  germany, men's national team, world cup 2014


By Ridge Mahoney

The USA survived the Group of Death. A 1-0 loss to Germany was still enough to send the Americans through to the round of 16 on Tuesday when Portugal's 2-1 victory over Ghana was not enough to overcome its hole on goal difference going into the deciding matches.

ENOUGH LEFT TO BLUNT GERMANS. Depth is vital at a World Cup, and to bolster his lineup for the group finale against Germany, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann handed starts to Brad Davis and Omar Gonzalez for the first time in the tournament.

Davis took over a wide midfield slot for Alejandro Bedoya, who had started but failed to finish the first two games, and Gonzalez replaced Geoff Cameron, whose scuffed clearance had provided Portugal a chance it converted in the fifth minute of the 2-2 tie the nations played on Sunday. Many of his teammates were also badly fatigued yet Cameron appeared to be the most gassed and so Klinsmann turned to Gonzalez, who had taken over a starting role during the Hexagonal and earlier this year  but moved to the bench during the warm-up games.

A policy of containment permeated the Americans, and though Davis worked hard on the left flank he didn’t provide much attacking impetus. On the opposite side, Graham Zusi also put in a workhorse shift defensively. Neither Zusi nor Davis were particularly effective on set pieces, of which there were few since Germany controlled most of the play.

Gonzalez played a strong game, winning balls in the air and twice thwarting threatening situations by slide-tackling decisively. He and Matt Besler were regular central partners for much of the Hexagonal and if satisfied with their work together Klinsmann may retain that pairing for the round of 16.

Though many U.S. players were obviously fatigued from the first two games, they were able to maintain a relatively high level of energy even though Germany controlled most of the second half. Tim Howard again came up strong when he needed to and is emerging as one of the top keepers in the tournament. Over the three games, the Americans were tough psychologically throughout.

MARGINAL THINKING. The dynamics of Group G were altered considerably when Portugal lost its opener to Germany, 4-0, and ultimately that result proved just as decisive as that of the three U.S. games. Goal difference, not head-to-head results, is the first tiebreaker used at the World Cup and other FIFA competitions.

Dropped into a hole by the heavy defeat, Portugal came back to tie the USA, 2-2, and beat Ghana, 2-1, to accrue the four points that is usually the minimum required to advance. But in essence, the group was decided by the U.S. losing to Germany by fewer goals than did Portugal, which kept its hopes alive by scoring a spectacular last-second equalizer against the USA but ultimately fell short.

THE WRATH OF RONALDO. American fans slammed Michael Bradley’s giveaway and some loose marking after Cristiano Ronaldo nailed his majestic cross to Silvestre Varela produced the tying goal in Manaus. Up to that point, the U.S. defense had done a magnificent job of stifling the reigning World Player of the Year, and he hadn’t done much in the opener as Germany ran rampant.

Once given an opportunity to influence the outcome, Ronaldo did just that against the USA, and against Ghana he soothed the nerves of American fans by scoring the goal that broke a 1-1 tie and essentially rendered the USA-Germany result meaningless. Ghana would have edged the USA for second place if it had beaten Portugal by 2-1 or any other one-goal margin other than 1-0.

  1. Mark Hardt
    commented on: June 26, 2014 at 4:27 p.m.
    We love you Ronaldo. Come play in the MLS in Miami for Beckham when you are 34.
  1. Ginger Peeler
    commented on: June 26, 2014 at 4:28 p.m.
    Portugal is the only team that managed to break the Manaus curse.
  1. Terry Ellis
    commented on: June 26, 2014 at 5:25 p.m.
    Into the round of 16 and probably to go against Belgium. A tough assignment but for a team that many picked to lose 3 straight. Way to go USA!!! Go for it!
  1. Andy Sanders
    commented on: June 26, 2014 at 5:40 p.m.
    Michael Bradley had another horrible game. This cannot be undersold. If you go count his touches he mishandles his first touch or turns the ball over on the pass well more than he should. He couldn't get a first touch on a couple of beautiful balls near the penalty area. And turned it over repeatedly at mid field. He's so out of it that he missed a touch right in front of him in open space in our defensive 1/3. It's painful to watch. I did notice that he ran a little harder today. Especially on the forward press.
  1. DonJuego Lee
    commented on: June 26, 2014 at 10:36 p.m.
    Davis did not take one dead ball. So kinda harsh to say he was ineffective at set pieces. Poor journalism.

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