JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: The U.S. gets the result it needed, but it feels like a loss
I’m not going to lie to you – I’m still sick to my stomach over the result against Portugal today (well, now yesterday when I’m writing this.) We dominated Portugal, ranked #4 in the world (though the FIFA rankings don’t make a lot of sense so take that for what it is worth) for just about the entire game, controlled the ball well for long spells, created several great chances from open play, and basically treated the reigning world player of the year like a ragdoll in midfield for 94 minutes. Our five man midfield controlled the game, Tim Howard was his usual solid presence at the back, and we had that game won. Done and dusted. Book our spot in the knockout rounds. Only then it wasn’t. One scuffed clearance at the beginning and one moment of brilliance at the end, and a historic win was snatched from our grasp.
You can say what you want about the final sequence. I’m not sure why Bradley was trying to play the ball in midfield at that time instead of just lumping it toward the corner to burn time, but he did, and was played off the ball. So be it. We ended up with SEVEN white shirts back on defense, and Cristiano Ronaldo made one of the great crosses you will ever see. He had about a one foot area to thread that ball, and he did it perfectly on to the head of Varela, who needed only to make contact to send the ball past a helpless Tim Howard. It’s going to hurt to watch that play repeatedly for the next 50 years, but the cross was that good and we should be celebrating it for the skill involved.
Watch it again if you can.
Trying to put a rational face on something so emotionally draining is hard, but the fact remains that the U.S. is pretty much exactly where we hoped to be before the tournament started: second in group with four points. We have around a 75% chance of advancing from the vaunted Group of Death, control our own destiny, and can advance on Thursday even with a loss. In reality, we shouldn’t be greedy here and should step back and appreciate our situation. The U.S. just drew a European power at the World Cup with the reigning Ballon d’Or recipient on their team and we feel legitimately hard done by that we didn’t win. I hate talking about moral victories, but if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann you have to be thrilled with your team’s position.
That’s easy to say, but it still sucks. We had that game WON. We weren’t just the most athletic or the most organized or the team with the best spirit. We were the best team on the field, period.
Man of the match: Jermaine Jones – scored a tremendous goal and was once again a rock in midfield
The only thing that matters now is how the U.S. can advance from group play, into the knockout rounds. Here they are, as best I understand them:
Beat Germany and we win Group G, and Germany most likely advances (unless Ghana somehow wins and makes up a -5 goal difference.) You may laugh, but the U.S. team that played last night could beat anybody in the tournament.
Draw with Germany and both countries go through, with Germany as the group winner and the U.S second. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was one of Germany’s great players and managed their side to a third place finish in the 2006 WC. Plus, he’s fast friends with Germany boss Loachim Low. Conspiracy in the making? I’ll let you decide should this one end in a mutually beneficial draw.
Lose to Germany while Portugal and Ghana draw.
Those are three least complicated routes to the knockout rounds. There are ways that we can advance while losing if either Ghana or Portugal win, but we need to win tie breakers based on total goals scored. If Ghana win by more than two goals, then they will advance ahead of us. If they win by one and we lose by one, then they need to score more goals in the process to advance (say, they win 2-1 over Portugal and we lose 1-0) based on total goals scored. If Portugal win, they need to win by a bunch to make up the -5 goal differential and total goals scored tie-breakers. Now get this, there’s a scenario where Portugal wins 2-0 and we lose 3-0 where second place will be decided by basically drawing straws. Whatever happens, I hope it does not come down to this.
There are four games today, and you may notice that for the first time there are games being played concurrently. This is a direct result of the West Germany-Austria sham I linked to above, and is designed to prevent collusion between teams when the results of the other group games are already known. The choice games of the day are The Netherlands v. Chile at noon for bragging rights in the group and Croatia against Mexico at 3:00. I’m gun shy about predictions after my 2-1 U.S. prediction yesterday was cruelly ripped to shreds in front of my eyes, but I’ll go with a 2-2 draw in the first game and Mexico squeaking out a 1-0 win in the late game.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to be sick again.
Cheers and happy viewing.