On a day that saw Luis Suárez given a heavy ban from soccer as well as Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince-Boateng being sent home in disgrace by Ghana, there was a danger that the off-pitch drama would overshadow the remaining fixtures in Group G.
The equation was simple, a draw between the US and Germany would see both sides comfortably qualify for the knockout rounds. However when the prospect of the two playing for the draw was broached to US coach Jürgen Klinsmann, he bristled at the suggestion. “The US is known to give all they have in every single game, otherwise Mexico wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Germany, well West Germany at least, played in one of the most infamous matches in World Cup history against Austria in 1982, the Schande von Gijón. Joachim Löw was not interested in repeating that performance (or more accurately speaking non-performance) and set his side out to attack. As an odd quirk of fate this result and the one in 1982 shared the same score line, a 1-0 victory to Germany.
On a rain sodden day at Recife, Klinsmann and Löw were adversaries as an impressive Germany triumphed but the US, with a little help from Portugal, managed to join them in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
1. Slick Germans
Under Löw the Germans have become one of the more pleasing teams to watch. Such is the talent and soccer intelligence in the side the players were able to switch formations and change systems pretty easily. Mesut Özil was allowed to float in the attacking areas as Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm kept things ticking along.
In the first 10-minutes the Germans came out of the blocks quickly and nearly took the lead in the opening minutes as a difficult chance fell to Thomas Müller. Their initial superiority was a warning sign of things to come.
Their ability to dictate the pace of the game was noticeable too, slowing down the tempo of the match before shifting gears to play at a more explosive pace. Sterile possession this was not as they sought to work opportunities and create two on one or three on two situations.
Off the ball they were equally as impressive knowing when exactly to drop and when to press. When the Germans did press they looked to overload the area where the ball was and pressurize the opponent into giving possession away.
If there was any surprise it was that it took Germany so long to score such was their dominance. Perhaps the only concern especially in the first half was that they didn’t test Tim Howard more.
2. Overworked America
The US initially set-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation in order to keep things tight at the back as Kyle Beckerman was charged with sitting in front of the defense. Given how the Germans started the US needed all their defensive resilience to prevent their goal from being breached. Omar Gonzalez was in the thick of the action making a couple of crucial interventions as the Germans pressed forward.
With the amount of chasing, defending and concentration required to keep the Germans at bay there was little left in the tank for the US to go on the attack themselves.
Oddly enough the best chance of the first half fell to Graham Zusi after an intricate move in the 22nd minute, which saw him shoot just over the bar.
Chances were few and far between though and when the US fell behind Jürgen Klinsmann switched to a more attacking 4-3-3 but again they didn’t create an opportunity of note until the final minutes of the game. Alejandro Bedoya nearly finished a fantastic American counter attack but the Germans were switched on at the back and Philipp Lahm slid in to make the crucial block. From the subsequent corner Clint Dempsey headed over.
To be fair it wasn’t that the US played badly; it was just that a ruthless German side didn’t allow them to play.
3. Thomas Müller delivers again
He could have scored in the opening minutes and he did score in the 55th minute to net his fourth goal of the tournament. Thomas Müller has shouldered the goal-scoring burden for his country and doesn’t seem fazed by the responsibility at all.
Müller’s ability to find pockets of space to create goal-scoring chances for himself and others is priceless.
From a corner routine, Tim Howard did extremely well to save from Per Mertesacker but unfortunately the ball fell at the feet of Müller who expertly guided the ball into the back of the net. The level of technique demonstrated by him and was frightening.
No team can afford to switch off against Thomas Müller or Germany otherwise they will find themselves a few goals down before they know it.
4. The US midfield had no answers
Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Brad Davis just could not impose themselves enough on the game. Clint Dempsey was fairly isolated and on another day Beckerman could have been sent off for two bookable offences but overall they all had a thankless task. The pressure was on them to counter swiftly, accurately and make the most of possession. When they gave up the ball it took them a long time to get it back again.
Maybe the American midfield was due a quiet match given the effort that they collectively put in against Ghana and Portugal but they cant be this ineffective again otherwise the US will find themselves dumped out of the tournament.
5. US conquer the Group of Death
Despite the setback against Germany, the US can be rightfully proud of their achievement. They were not expected to qualify from such a strong group and plaudits must be given to Jürgen Klinsmann, the coaching staff and all the players for getting through.
In the first two matches when the US needed to deliver they did. Clint Dempsey led by example, John Brooks’ goal gave his team three crucial points, Tim Howard made some vital saves and Jermaine Jones’ goal against Portugal was one of the strikes of the tournament.
The Americans needed a favor from Portugal but they also created their own luck in the opening games.
To qualify from a group as tough of this is a great accomplishment but now Klinsmann and the US must be looking to go further and claim a place in the quarterfinals. Anything can happen in knockout soccer and after what this team has done no side can take the Americans for granted.
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