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The five turning points of U.S. qualification
by Paul Kennedy, June 26th, 2014 5:44PM

TAGS:  men's national team


[BRAZIL 2014] Sometimes you need a little help at the World Cup. The USA got it with collapses on the field by Portugal (against Germany) and off the field by Ghana (before the Portugal game). But the USA earned qualification to the round of 16 -- something few gave it a chance of achieving -- thanks in large part to its remarkable resilience. Here are the five turning points of U.S. qualification.

1. Portuguese first half in Salvador. Everyone marveled at the German machine as it rolled over Portugal in their opener. But as subsequent games showed, the Germans aren't as good as they showed in the first half in Salvador -- and the Portuguese aren't as bad as they played in the first 45 minutes when they fell 3-0 down and lost Pepe to a red card.

The Portuguese dug themselves a huge hole from which they could never get out after they couldn't beat the USA in Manaus. The minus-four goal difference from the first game was always going to be impossible to overcome.

2. John Brooks' winner against Ghana. U.S. qualification always depended on winning at least one game, and Jurgen Klinsmann identified the Ghana opener as the must-win game. Things didn't look very good after Andrew Ayew's equalizer in the 82nd minute -- 81 minutes after Clint Dempsey put the USA ahead.

But it took all of four minutes for the USA to react and get the winner from unlikely hero John Brooks, who was playing his first competitive match for the USA. In a World Cup that saw six teams blow 1-0 leads and lose on Matchday 1, the USA did just the opposite. It blew a 1-0 and turned around and won.

3. Jermaine Jones' equalizer against Portugal. After Germany's 2-2 tie with Ghana the day before, all the talk before the USA-Portugal game in Manaus was how the USA would advance with a win over the Portuguese. Few talked about the possibility of a loss to Portugal that would have wiped out the USA's advantage gained in Natal, but it again recovered from another setback -- conceding an early goal to Portuguese and in the worst possible way, a missed defensive clearance by Geoff Cameron leading to Nani's 5th-minute goal.

But again, the USA responded. It attacked and attacked and took an hour, but Jermaine Jones' equalizer put the USA back in the driver's seat. The goal -- one of the best of many good goals from distance at the World Cup -- was a reward for Jones' play in all three games, where he was the best U.S. player.

4. Ghana's meltdown. Ghana was given new life when the USA had to settle for a 2-2 tie with Portugal, but instead of building on the 2-2 tie of its own against Germany in one of the best games of the World Cup, the Black Stars self-destructed. Instead of preparing for the Portugal game, players and Ghana Football Association officials squabbled over missing bonuses.

Problems between the players and the Ghana Football Association are nothing new -- most of the key players have quit the national team at some point in their career -- but it reached a head when players demanded cash -- $3 million in bills -- be flown in from Accra and when Sulley Muntari (already suspended for the Portugal game) and Kevin Prince-Boateng (always at odds with Coach Kwesi Appiah) were sent home.

Frankly, the Black Stars never looked like beating Portugal, even when they equalized on Asamoah Gyan's goal.

Photo: Perry McIntyre/

5. First-half stalemate in Recife. The ultimate test for the USA was always going to come against Germany. Not only did the Americans need to overcome the disappointment of conceding an equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time -- "We could taste the second round," said defender Matt Besler -- but they also had to overcome the hangover of Manaus. The four teams before them that played in Manaus all lost their next game.

The USA could survive a loss in Recife, but it would only be in danger of going out if it got blown out to the Germans. The USA was under immediate pressure from the Germans but survived an early onslaught and got out of the first half at 0-0. Like so many of his moves in the tournament, Klinsmann's decision to insert Omar Gonzalez for Cameron paid off as the LA Galaxy defender had a strong first half in his first World Cup start to help put the USA in a position to advance.

Portugal, not suffering from any Manaus hangover, did the rest.

  1. Paul Estrada
    commented on: June 26, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.
    Portugal did play in Manaus too, you know. Why wouldn't they have a hangover? They were the only team that played in Manaus that managed to win their next game.
  1. Doug Wiggins
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 3:33 a.m.
    Paul Estrada..... Great point! (Hello ..Hello.. Any mindless statisticians listening?) But in reality, Paul, on the field the Port players just had to act empathatic with the Ghanians by saying things like " It really sucks that you guys have to go through all of these gyrations, just to get paid like the rest of us! I am so sorry!" Soon the Ghana players just lay down!
  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 8:53 a.m.
    Paul Estrada -- yeah, wtf. Sometimes when the US plays you'd never guess there was another team involved, if the coverage is anything to go by. Since Portugal was our opponent in Manaus and therefore had exactly the same conditions and rest period, I can't figure out why they wouldn't have a Manaus hangover. Who knows, without the Manaus hangover they beat Ghana 5-0. Instead they get to go home. No hangover indeed.
  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 8:57 a.m.
    And speaking of other teams, here's a shoutout to the Ticos. They won their group with aplomb, dropping only 2 points in a group that provided just as many--if not more--challenges as the group the US was in.
  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 10:40 a.m.
    Portugal was helped by the off-field melt down of Ghana. The Ghanaian team's mind was focus on money. There is no doubt in my mind that playing in Manuas takes a lot of energy off your body but greed is a disease and can kill your brain. By the way, Switzerland has played its last game in Manuas and they will face Argentina next round. Good luck to them not getting blown out by Messi.
  1. Greg Morris
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 11:36 a.m.
    Portugal did have and show the effects of having played in Manaus. They were gifted 2 goals by a divided and unfocused Ghana team that had played much better against Germany and the U.S.
  1. M B
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 10:12 a.m.
    Don't all African nations' teams that arrive at World Cups always self destruct? Maybe Cameroon in Italia's WC 1990 is a rare exeception. Ask German coach Winnie Schaefer (coach for Cameroon at WC 2002) what it is REALLY like on the inside coaching the players - trying to - working with the federation officials. He's unconditionally stated that it is a daily soap opera of the unintelligent, uncommitted, unorganized, unfocused. Thus: This easy prediction. Unless something radically alters in these nations, one will never see an African men's WC winner. And I say even semi finalist. So Ghana's flop after a very respectable matchup with Germany was wholly foreseable. Talent alone does not matter when there is no will and discipline to have selfless teamwork and commitment. The USA benefits always from these African teams in the WC group stage.
  1. New WorldOrder
    commented on: July 1, 2014 at 10:59 a.m.
    M B, talent alone doe not matter if head is not right in these competitions but it certainly matters when getting paid. All African teams are worth twice as much as USA on average. Algeria makes $30,000,000 more as the lowest paid African team. Ghana makes twice as much. You think any of USA's players will get a better offer after this world cup performance??

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