No catchy title today. It’s all business. Do or die time. The U.S. were 27 seconds from punching their ticket to the Round of 16, and did not capitalize on that opportunity. Haven’t recovered from Sunday night? Tough luck – it’s time to move on.
Finally, Germany have proven that they are human. After a first half that may have put some to sleep, Ghana and Germany went toe-to-toe in the second half, providing one of the most entertaining halves in the World Cup thus far. Mario Gotze opened up the scoring in the 51st minute with the everyday head-to-knee goal. Ghana scored two unanswered goals in nine minutes by Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan, before Miroslav Klose tied the all-time record for World Cup goals in the 71st minute. The teams fought for the deciding goal, with neither side giving way, ending the game in a 2-2 draw. Something that hasn’t been mentioned after knowing the USA-Portugal result: a third German goal, assuming Ghana were limited to two, would have sent the USA through to the next round.
So close. So, so close. Before the World Cup started, many American fans (myself included) said “beat Ghana, and get a result against Portugal – that should get us through the Group of Death.” We have done just that, and yet many American fans (again, myself included) are not satisfied. If you told me that the U.S. would control their own destiny going in to the Germany game, I may have questioned your sanity. It’s crazy how the beautiful game works.
Since Sunday night, I’ve watched the whole game four times. Regardless of all the negative feelings that followed that crushing draw, there were so many positives to take from it. The MLS guys were brilliant in this one. Beckerman was all over the field, and even sent a message to Raul Meireles with an elbow to the jaw. Clint Dempsey was the usual Captain America that he has been throughout qualifying and the first two games. Matt Besler was a boss at the back. DeAndre Yedlin was huge coming off the bench. Michael Bradley had a solid game (watch the first 94 minutes before you judge). Graham Zusi was arguably the hardest working player on the field Sunday night. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I was pretty rough on Jermaine Jones. My main goal was to be critical when he had the ball at his feet. Jones looked like he had stone feet at times (12 times possession lost), and had 78% passing completion. Aside from that, Jones was brilliant. I will always remember that goal, and Ian Darke’s call. Jurgen Klinsmann was brilliant tactically. Right after the game, I said he hit all three substitutions out of the park. Dan (@socceryankdan, also my editor) was able to convince me otherwise – two out of three is solid. Wondo ran Portugal’s tired defense to death. The DeAndre Yedlin sub (#InTaylorTwellmanWeTrust) was brilliant. It allowed Fabian Johnson to continue getting forward on to the attack, and Yedlin created the Dempsey goal. The Omar Gonzalez sub leads to me to my final point…
That dreaded final goal. If you want to blame Michael Bradley for the last goal, that’s fine. But, consider this: Bradley turned the ball over 65 yards from his own goal. When Portugal obtained possession, the U.S. had 8 guys behind the ball on defense and Portugal had 5 guys on the attack. We had 65 yards to figure out who was going to mark who, and never got it organized. Fabian Johnson never caught up to Varela, the goal scorer. Geoff Cameron looked over his right shoulder, and saw plenty of space between him and the man he was marking, but never bother to look over his left shoulder where Varela snuck in behind him. If you watch the replay of the goal, you’ll notice that every player was ball-watching. Every. Single. One. You know what was missing on that goal? A left midfielder – where Graham Zusi shifted back to after the Yedlin substitution, before being replaced by Gonzalez. My suggestion would have been to throw Julian Green out there in place of Zusi during stoppage time to do the same thing as DeAndre Yedlin, but maybe that’s why I’m not a coach.
With all of that being said, don’t be so negative about the Portugal game. Did it leave a sour taste in our mouths? Absolutely, but that was maybe the best performance in the history of the program.
How The U.S. Can Advance
(Note: the top row is the outcomes of Germany-USA, and left-most row is the outcomes of the Portugal-Ghana game)
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover).
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal).
Midfielders: Julian Draxler (Schalke), Matthias Ginter (Freiburg), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Christoph Kramer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich).
Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal).
Manager: Joachim Loew
In both of Germany’s Group G matchups thus far, they went with a 4-3-3/4-5-1 combination that featured: Neuer in goal; Boateng, Mertesacker, Hummels, and Howedes on the back line; Khedira, Lahm, and Kroos in the central midfield; Ozil and Gotze on the wings; and Muller at striker. Germany is pretty much in the same boat as the U.S. as far as advancing is concerned: a tie in either Group G game will send them through, three points will win the group, and a loss would go down to goal differential (which Germany has a huge advantage in). With that in mind, it’s somewhat difficult to predict what Loew’s lineup will look like. I would assume that it will look pretty similar to the first two games – maybe letting guys like Klose and Schurrle get some playing time and give some of the starters a rest.
- Midfield depth
- Four center backs on the back line
How The U.S. Can Exploit The Weakness & Contain The Strengths Of Germany
For a team that many critics say does not have a striker (Thomas Muller has done just fine at striker), this team has scored six goals in their two games. Perhaps the numbers are slightly skewed based on their two goals after Portugal were limited to ten men. Nonetheless, this team looks fantastic on the break. Geoff Cameron will need to sharpen up, and Matt Besler will need to be the brick wall that he was in the Portugal game. Besler has gotten hurt in both games thus far, so John Brooks may be called on at some point during this game. Germany’s stacked midfield will certainly clog up that area of the field, so the U.S. should look to break on the wings before going inside to Dempsey and Bradley.
One of the reasons that Ghana exposed Germany’s defense was because of their speed, and Germany’s lack thereof on the back line. With four center backs out there, Germany lacks speed at fullback. Something that the U.S. has limited amounts of is speed. With Jozy Altidore being ruled out for the Germany game, I expect the same lineup as the Portugal game – Howard in goal; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, and Beasley at the back four; Jones, Beckerman, and Bradley in central midfield; Bedoya and Zusi on the outside; and Dempsey at striker. One of the many things that has stood out in the first two games is the lack of a presence by Alejandro Bedoya. Perhaps this is just me looking for a storyline, but many people didn’t think DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Julian Green deserved a spot on this team. Yedlin (created the Dempsey goal against Portugal) and Brooks (scored the game-winner against Ghana) have both had their moment. Could Julian Green be called on to replace Bedoya or Zusi at some part of the Germany game? The idea really isn’t too farfetched. Imagine if he got subbed on in the 75th minute with the game tied, and scored the game-winner – against the national team that he left just three months ago. Now THAT would be a storyline. I personally would be interested in seeing Yedlin play in Bedoya’s spot again, allowing Johnson to get up the field similar to what he did in the last 20 minutes of the Portugal game. I couldn’t see Yedlin starting for Bedoya, but it would not surprise me if Klinsmann brought on Yedlin in the right midfield spot again.
My Prediction for Ghana-Portugal
I’m so torn between what my heart and head say about this game. In my heart, I see a one-goal win by Portugal, or even a draw. But after watching the USA-Portugal game four times, the effort just looks absent. Everyone looked flat. Did you see any player celebrate their game-tying goal? Perhaps they felt it was not deserved, but that is beside the point. Everything was played through Ronaldo – which may not be a bad idea if Ronaldo was playing at 100%. This all isn’t to say that the U.S. did not put up a fight against Portugal, because they absolutely did. The U.S. dominated the second half, and Portugal looked dead after the 60th minute. They had an entire week to rest before this game, and still looked tired for one-third of the game. Going into this game, Portugal has three days off and Ghana has four. So badly I want to predict that Portugal will squeeze out a draw, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. The speedy Ghanaians will be too much for the tired Portuguese. Ghana has a very good chance of advancing, whereas Portugal’s chances look abysmal thanks to their 4-0 loss to Germany. If Portugal goes down a goal early-on, they’re in big trouble. My prediction: a 2-0 win for Ghana with goals by the Ayew brothers.
My Prediction for USA-Germany
Let me start by saying how ridiculous the notion is that Loew and Klinsmann are going to agree to play to a draw in this game. Neither of these countries owe the other anything. If either team is more willing to play to a draw, it’s Germany due to goal differential. If you’re Jurgen Klinsmann, why on earth would you play for a draw? In all likelihood, Belgium will play whoever finishes second in the Group of Death. So you’re telling me Klinsmann will play it safe and likely face our fate against Belgium in the Round of 16 rather than go for a win, win Group G, and likely play Algeria, Russia, or Korea Republic in the Round of 16? No way. Now, with that being said, if the game is still tied and neither team has clear momentum around the 70th minute, I would expect both teams to lock it down for the remaining 20 minutes and not expose themselves defensively. Germany has loads more talent than us. I would be a fool to say that they didn’t. However, Klinsmann can make tactical changes in this game, such as bringing on speedsters DeAndre Yedlin and/or Julian Green in the second half, that could make a difference. Germany has four days off leading up to this game, while the U.S. has three. Fatigue could play a factor with Jones and Beckerman, both guys in their 30s that have played 180 minutes each in the last ten days. With the way all of the games in the Group of Death have gone down, I honestly would not be surprised by any result in this game. Keeping my 2-0 Ghana prediction in mind, it would not be a World Cup in the 2000s if Ghana wasn’t eliminating the U.S.. My prediction: a 2-1 win by Germany, with goals from Muller, Kroos, and Dempsey. I would never be happier to be proven wrong.
*Germany-Ghana stats provided by http://world-cup-2014.squawka.com/germany-vs-ghana/21-06-2014/world-cup/matches
**USA-Portugal stats provided by http://world-cup-2014.squawka.com/usa-vs-portugal/22-06-2014/world-cup/matches#yhUcs2CmPtUOVbHH.97
***Rosters provided by http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/27388351