This is the World Cup that keeps on giving after yet another rip roaring, drama packed game. Two Portuguese goals at the beginning and the end of the match sandwiched a captain’s goal by Clint Dempsey and a wonder strike from Jermaine Jones and ensured that all will be decided in Group G in the last round of fixtures. With Ghana’s result against Germany, the ‘group of death’ is finely poised. Who dares qualify?
1. The shoe’s on the other foot for the US
When John Brooks rose to head home an 87th minute winner against Ghana, the sheer joy on the faces of his teammates and coaching staff was a sight to behold. Whilst it took a while for everything to sink in for Brooks, who provided the World Cup with one of the iconic goal celebrations, the rest of the side realized the importance of that late winner.
Silvestre Varela’s last gasp equalizer for Portugal forced the US to experience the crueler side of the game with qualification only a few seconds away. Tim Howard’s immediate reaction once the ball hit the back of the net encapsulated the moment with the goalkeeper putting his hands on his head in the realization that the US was so close but yet so far away from qualification.
The Americans would have settled for a 2-2 draw under normal circumstances but the concession of a last second equalizer left a sour taste in the mouth for the players, coaching staff and fans. This was a draw that felt like a defeat.
2. Klinsmann sends the right message
“When you concede in the last second it is unfortunate, but it was an amazing game from us – I can’t ask for any more. Now we have to get a result against Germany and that is what we’re going to do. We will take even more confidence into the next game. It’ll be another final but that’s what the World Cup is about.”
In the aftermath of the game it could have been easy to lament or lambast giving up an equalizer right at the death. However Klinsmann chose to build-up his players and ease the pressure off them.
Klinsmann interestingly also made a point of emphasizing that the Germans, whom the USA face next, would have had an extra day of rest and that the so-called bigger nations are having things made easier for them. Was that kidology on his part? Does he believe it? Is he trying to build a siege mentality ahead of this vital clash? Maybe it’s all three but Klinsmann knows that whilst the Germans have been scoring goals the game against Ghana demonstrated a fragility at the back, a weakness that can be exploited.
3. Inspiration and Perspiration
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the US as they were a whisker away from sealing a berth in the knockouts.
Tim Howard produced a world class save to deny Éder after Nani’s initial effort came back off the post. The importance of that save just before half time cannot be underestimated as it kept the score to 1-0 and ensured that the US stayed in the game.
Jermaine Jones who curled in a Messi-esque equalizer, his first goal in over two years for the US and his first in the World Cup, put in an energetic and dynamic performance. He is proving to be a key player for Jürgen Klinsmann.
Clint Dempsey’s been a vital figure for the US and has led by example. His improvised finish gave the US the lead and his ability to produce in the big games cannot be taken for granted.
Overall this was a hardworking performance from the US. The movement off the ball was good, the passing was generally accurate and once again the team was disciplined and functioned well as a unit.
Football though is a cruel mistress and Geoff Cameron’s and Michael Bradley’s errors proved to be extremely costly. Nani couldn’t have wished for a better pass from a teammate as Cameron’s sliced clearance fell perfectly for the Manchester United man. It was a simple ball to clear but the lack of concentration cost the US dear. If you’re going to be critical of Tim Howard perhaps he was fooled a little too easily by Nani and went down a little early for the opener. As for the equalizer Cameron should have been more switched on and tracked Varela’s run.
Michael Bradley, despite an improved performance, was also guilty of a couple of glaring, game changing errors. Had Bradley placed his shot either side of Ricardo Costa in the 54th minute the US would have been on level terms. To be fair Bradley’s blushes were spared somewhat when Jones spectacularly equalized a few minutes later. Bradley’s error at the end of the game gave Portugal one last opportunity and Ronaldo, who had an off-night, put in a great cross for Varela to equalize.
4. Too little, too late for Portugal?
After slumping to a 4-0 defeat against Germany the Portuguese came out fighting scoring early on after Nani capitalized on Geoff Cameron’s mistake. The equalizer also resulted from an American error and the Portuguese coach Paulo Bento will be pleased and upset in equal measure. His team displayed combative qualities to draw the game but also failed to build on their initial good start and gave away the initiative. The Portuguese now have a mountain to climb if they are to stand any chance for qualification.
Ronaldo and company will need to beat Ghana by a heavy margin, by no means an easy feat, and will need a favourable result from the Germany-USA game. Portugal’s World Cup hopes hang by a thread and if they ever needed Ronaldo to pull out a performance it is against the dangerous Black Stars. Even if Portugal somehow get the result required it may not be enough and they’ll be left to rue the non-performance against Gemany.
5. ‘Group of Death’ on a knife edge
Going into the final round of group games the US, Germany, Ghana and Portugal are all in with a shout for a knockout berth. A draw between the US and Germany would suit the pair but they won’t be looking to do each other any favours such is the mentality of both sets of players. If the US has an opportunity to knock-out Germany they will do all they can to take it and vice-versa.
Ghana’s game against Portugal promises to be a proper battle royale as nothing but a victory and big wins at that will do for either side. Ghana go into the game as favourites after their performance against Germany. Portugal will rely on the genius of Ronaldo to try and get a result and hope that things go their way in the other game.
At the moment Germany and the US are in pole position to go through, but if this World Cup has taught us anything it’s that nothing should be taken for granted.