June 26, 2014
By Michael Lewis
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD (CUP)
Despite loss to Germany, USA gets another life as it moves from Group of Death into 2nd round
Big Apple Soccer Editor
RECIFE, Brazil -- It took about a minute for the result to become official and only a second for it to settle in.
After the United States dropped a 1-0 Group G decision to Germany Thursday, the Americans discovered they had booked a spot in the Round of 16 at the World Cup.
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.
USA 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 over Algeria.
The Americans experienced mixed emotions after the game, played in rainy, soggy conditions after torrential rains caused massive flooding in the area. Some of the USA players' familes, 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 USA allowing an 11th-hour goal in a 2-2 draw with Portugal in Manaus 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, four points) did accomplish their mission, finishing second to Germany (2-0-1, seven) as they survived the Group of Death by reaching the knockout round in consecutive Cups for the first time. They edged past Portugal (1-1-1, four) on goal differential, zero to minus-three. In a match played at the same time, the Portuguese defeated Ghana (0-2-1, one), 2-1, as Cristiano Ronaldo connected on the game-winner
"It’s huge for us getting out of this group that everybody said, ‘You have no chance,’ " USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We really want to prove a point.”
The Americans proved a point but did not earn one, 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 before 41,876, certainly won't be listed 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 USA, 13-4. The Americans had only one shot on goal and that was by Alejandro Bedoya in the second half.
But they persevered behind some usual and unlikely heroes.
Defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones, who feared that 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,” Besler said. “I tried to stand up and make myself big. He hit to a spot where no one could get to it.”
Howard admitted the goal was a beauty.
“I think [Per] Mertesacker headed it down to the back post," he said. "As I dove I just saw red and black shirts and with the conditions I just needed to get it out of the danger area; did that well. But, credit to Muller, keeping that shot hard and low first-time is very, very difficult. He’s done it before but that’s the type of player he is. It was a great finish.”
Alongside Besler in the Starting XI was Gonzalez, a surprise selection in place of Geoff Cameron, whose mistake led to Portugal's first goal Sunday night. Gonzalez, who has been hampered with 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 the head of Mesut Ozil 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."
Added Gonzalez: I'm just happy that I could step on the field and do whatever I could to help this team to go through."
His family never had an opportunity to make it to the stadium, so they improvised only 15 miles away.
"I'm still now sure where they watched it," he said. "I think they were streaming on their phones. They were all huddled around a couple of phones. Now we give them another game to go to, so it's a lot of fun."
The "fun" continues in Salvador on Tuesday.