World Cup preview — the moment of truth for the U.S.

Tomorrow at the World Cup, the U.S. will face powerhouse Germany in the final game of the group stage. Simultaneously, Ghana and Portugal will play.

If Ghana and Portugal tie, the U.S. will advance to the knock-out stage regardless of what happens in the match against Germany. That’s because the U.S. already has four points (from a win and a draw), while Portugal and Ghana have only one point each. Only a victory would give these teams any hope of matching our point total.

Moreover, a Portugal win would likely mean that the U.S. advances. That’s because the tie breaker, in the event both teams have the same number of points, is goal difference — and Portugal lost to Germany 4-0. If the U.S. loses to Germany by a more respectable margin, then, barring a Portugal rout of Ghana, the U.S. should advance.

Unfortunately, Ghana appears to be the better team. It dominated long stretches of the match with the U.S. and earned a draw against Germany.

Portugal played poorly against Germany and was mediocre against the U.S. The team suffers from key injuries, and the play of its superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, has been uninspired (except for that pass that led to that goal in the final half minute of the match against the U.S.).

Playing at its best, Portugal would stand a good chance of drawing or even winning against Ghana. But some good teams never come close to their best at the World Cup (see Spain this year, for example). Portugal may fall into that category.

Thus, the U.S. may well need a draw against Germany. How likely are we to get that result, or an even better one?

Germany seems like a clear favorite to win. Even in their match with Ghana, the Germans played well enough to beat us, in my opinion. And normally I would expect that, after switching off a bit in their second match as they sometimes do, Germany will be sharper in their final group stage contest.

However, Germany only needs a draw to advance as winner of the Group, while the U.S. (as noted) needs only a draw to advance. Given this situation, the question arises (and has been belabored) as to whether both teams might accommodate each other by playing for a draw.

Such accommodation has occurred before, most famously in the “non-aggression pact of Gijon,” at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Then, West Germany and Austria did not even pretend to attack each other’s goal after West Germany went ahead 1-0. That result saw both teams advance at the expense of Algeria.

I also witnessed this phenomenon during the 1984 Olympics in a match between France and Chile. The two teams just kicked the ball around aimlessly during the entire second half so that both would advance. Having missed the first half due to terrible traffic on the way to Annapolis, I was not amused.

Will this happen tomorrow? I’m pretty sure it won’t, and I certainly hope it doesn’t.

But here’s what might happen. Both sides might play cautious, defensive soccer from the outset. And if the match is tied after 75 minutes or so, both might more or less close up shop.

If so, it won’t be due to a conspiracy or be based on the friendship between our German coach and theirs. It will simply be two teams tailoring their tactics to their needs.

Meanwhile, I’ll be hoping that Ghana and Portugal play to a draw.


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