June 26, 2014

Team USA advances to 2nd round of World Cup despite loss

Thomas Mueller scored his fourth goal of the World Cup on Friday as Germany defeated the United States 1-0 to win Group G ahead of the Americans, who also advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup despite losing.

It took about a minute for the result to become official and only a second for it to settle in.

A little more than a minute after the United States dropped a 1-0 decision Thursday to Germany, the Americans discovered they had booked a spot in the Round of 16 at the World Cup despite the loss in Group G.

The scoreboard at Arena Pernambuco flashed the final score from Brasilia: Portugal 2, Ghana 1. The fans cheered and the American supporters chanted, “USA! USA!” The players hugged each other on the field.

U.S. center back Matt Besler said he felt “joy, relief.”

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he added. “We’re still hungry.”

Besler and his teammates will get a chance to whet their appetites Tuesday, when they meet Belgium in the second round in Salvador. Belgium, 3-0-0, secured the Group H crown with a 1-0 victory Thursday over South Korea.

The Americans experienced mixed emotions after the game, played on rainy, soggy conditions after torrential rains caused massive flooding in the area. Some of the U.S. players’ family, including those of center back Omar Gonzalez and captain Clint Demspey, could not attend the game because they could not travel out of the downtown area.

“Last game’s a draw, felt like a loss, and today’s loss felt like a win,” Gonzalez said, referring to the U.S. team allowing an 11th-hour goal in a 2-2 draw with Portugal in Manaus on Sunday. “It’s pretty weird. But our mission from the beginning was to get to the next round and job well done.”

While it was hardly pretty, the Americans, 1-1-1 and four points, did accomplish their mission, finishing second to Germany, 2-0-1 and seven points, as they survived the “Group of Death” by reaching the knockout round in consecutive World Cups for the first time.

They edged Portugal, 1-1-1 and four points, on goal differential, zero to minus-three. In a match played at the same time, the Portuguese defeated Ghana, 0-2-1 and one point, 2-1.

“It’s huge for us getting out of this group that everybody said, ‘You have no chance,’” U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said. “We really want to prove a point.”

The Americans did not earn a point, but they managed to survive.

“It was weird conditions in terms of all the rain and not having a proper warm-up on the field,” Dempsey said about both teams warming up behind the advertising signs. “You’re having to go behind the goal, you’re not even getting to do a possession game.

“Also in the back of your mind, a lot of your family not being able to make it to the game just wanting to make sure they were safe. There were a lot of factors going into today’s game that made it a difficult.”

The game, played in front of 41,876, certainly won’t be among the most memorable in U.S. history. The Germans enjoyed a sizable time of possession having the ball 63 percent of the time, while outshooting the U.S. 13-4. The Americans had only one shot on goal — by Alejandro Bedoya in the second half.

But they persevered behind some usual and unlikely heroes.

Defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones, who feared he broke his nose in a second-half collision with Bedoya, played his normal hard-edged game at both ends. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was a rock, making eight saves, although he could not stop Thomas Muller from scoring his fourth goal of the tournament in the 54th minute.

Muller converted a rebound of a two-handed Howard save as he fired a shot from 20 yards into the lower right corner.

“As I was closing down Muller, I decided not to slide,” said Besler, a member of Sporting Kansas City. “I tried to stand up and make myself big. He hit to a spot where no one could get to it.”

Alongside Besler in the starting lineup was Gonzalez, a surprise selection in place of Geoff Cameron, whose mistake led to Portugal’s first goal. Gonzalez, who has been hampered by a left knee injury, acquitted himself well, heading at least three dangerous balls out of harm’s way, including a left-wing cross that was targeted for Mesuit Ozil’s head in the 15th minute.

“He got thrown into the firing line, but he did well, had some good clearances, read the game well,” Howard said. “It was just about managing it. Between him and Matty trying to manage the back line and the guys in front of them and really not allow Germany to open up and get in a flow.”

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