“Win and you’re in.”
That’s the siren call for the United States men’s national soccer team ahead of Sunday’s game against Portugal in Group G of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Germany and Ghana played a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday, leaving the former with four points and the latter with one after two games.
If the United States defeats Portugal, it will survive the so-called “Group of Death.” Few expected Team USA to advance to the knockout rounds before the World Cup started, but the Americans are in position to do so with a game to spare.
If the United States draws against Portugal, it will have four points after two games. It then will face Germany in the group finale, while Portugal and Ghana meet at the same time. Ghana and Portugal would need to win in order to tie the U.S. on points in such a scenario. A tie-breaker would determine which team advances, and the U.S. would still be a favorite to continue competing. Ghana would need to overturn a minus-two goal differential in its last game, while Portugal would need a five-goal swing.
Saturday’s draw shows why the United States’ win against Ghana in its opener was so important. Had Team USA drawn or lost against the Black Stars, it would have been playing for its tournament survival against Germany and Portugal needing points and having zero margin for error. Now, its next opponents are the ones with their backs against the wall.
With three points in tow, Team USA is secure in the knowledge that one more point should be enough to go through — barring a lopsided defeat along the way. The United States can take a cagey approach against Portugal, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. know that a draw against the Americans will create a scenario in which they need to hammer Ghana. Teams often make errors in desperate times.
We learned in the Ghana-Germany game that the Black Stars are an excellent team — probably the best in Africa — that can impose themselves on the opposition when they raise their game.
Ghana also exposed some weaknesses in Germany’s team. Germany has an embarrassment of riches in the midfield, which can control play against anyone in that part of the field. Yet, Germany is thin up front — Miroslav Klose is the only specialist striker in the squad — and vulnerable to quick counter-attacks at the back.
If the United States presses aggressively in its half and limits service to Thomas Muller, it can earn a result against the Germans.
But first, there is the immediate task of facing Portugal.
“Don’t lose and you should be in.” That’s the name of the game.