The United States faces possible elimination from the World Cup if they don’t get at least a draw against Germany on Thursday. The USA’s failure to close out Portugal in stoppage time has left the national team with everything to do against Germany.
Assumptions are abound in the United States among some lazy pundits and those who quite honestly might want to see the sport fail that Germany is somehow an invincible force and the United States will be eliminated. The feeling is that the American team simply cannot compete with the might of Germany’s side, which is among the World Cup favorites.
USA Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup as a player with Germany, will face his native country in this decisive final group game. Klinsmann also managed Germany in the 2006 World Cup and is given credit for transforming the side into an open, attack-minded team. But while the German team of 2014 retains Klinsmann’s attacking principles, they lack the classic German organization at the back. The full back position is a particular concern, and with the US showing real spunk in wide areas thus far in this World Cup, Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley could prove to be important assets.
The United States also has the ability to play in a more direct fashion testing the German backline. Ghana was able to use a high-line and long balls to their advantage, testing the German back four in the second group game. The pace of the Ghanaian midfield also caused Germany problems in that game as well. Germany also showed a slight vulnerability down the flanks in the opening group game against Portugal before that match was decisively influenced by the indiscipline of the Portuguese back-line.
The lack of reliable striking options also hampers this Germany side. Sure, they have scored six goals in two matches but they have several repetitive players in midfield that if they are tightly tracked and marked can be limited. Critical for the US will be Jermaine Jones, who was born and grew up in Germany and has suited up for Die Mannschaft in friendlies before filing his one-time FIFA switch of allegiance in 2009. Jones has been the best player in Group G during this World Cup. He stated weeks ago that he would not celebrate a goal against Germany, but no doubt he will be properly motivated.
Sami Khedira’s lack of mobility coming off a serious injury is another factor that must be considered difficult for Germany. The loss of Marco Reus before the World Cup was also a devastating blow to the side, as Reus was perhaps the most complete and resourceful members of the midfield.
Historically, the US has played better against Germany than other top European opposition. I was at a match in Jacksonville Florida in 1999 when the United States beat Germany 3-0 in a friendly. Later that year, the US beat Germany in a winner-take-all match in the Confederations Cup. Many also recall the 2002 Quarterfinal where the US went toe-to-toe with the eventual finalists. Michael Ballack’s goal decided proceedings that day but the US was oh so close to shocking the world.
In those days, the United States lacked the belief, the national support and squad depth to compete the way they do today. Yet the USA always played well against the Germans.
This German team lacks the mental strength of past sides. All too often in big games they have capitulated both at the club level and with the national team. Consistently when Germany has been pushed at the international level with this set of players, they have lost. The soccer might be slick and the passing pretty, but the lack of trophies and big game success mean this German side is underachieving. The pressure has never been greater on this set of players who have for the most part never won a decisive match of any sort against non-German opposition (domestic league and Bayern’s Champions League triumph, which was over fellow Bundesliga side BVB).
It is also worth noting the United States has not lost a World Cup game inside of 90 minutes since 2006. The USA is undefeated in six successive matches within ninety minutes.
While it is difficult to see the United States as clear favorites against the Germans, the gap isn’t as wide as some would lead you to believe. The Americans also have elements that could create the environment for a shocking victory.