It may seem like old home week for Jurgen Klinsmann and the five German-American players on the U.S. team this Thursday when the U.S and Germany meet in their final Group G match, but there’s too much at stake for any glad-handing.
With a draw sending both teams through, and considering the close relationship between Klinsmann and his former assistant, German coach Joachim Löw, some have asked if the two teams might cooperate to produce a tie, a possibility that Klinsmann rejected out of hand.
Klinsmann has said that his team will be playing for a win, and Löw’s team will be expected to do the same. Still, if the match is tied with time running down, it is not hard to envision both teams easing off the gas.
The Americans will be without Jozy Altidore again, and following a quick turnaround after the Portugal heartbreaker, Klinsmann may tweak his lineup. After Sunday’s game the U.S. coach complained that FIFA had set things up to suit the big teams, noting that Germany would have an extra day to rest before this match.
The U.S. has in fact travelled more than any other team at this World Cup, but it was Klinsmann’s decision to quarter his team in Sao Paulo, a decision he stuck with even after the draw determined where the U.S. would be playing its group games.
Germany appear to be healthy with the possible exception of defender Jerome Boateng. Normally a center back, Boateng has been a starter at right fullback in both of Germany’s games, but the Bayern Munich man had to be pulled at halftime of Germany’s 2-2 draw versus Ghana with a hip injury.
Boateng was replaced by a more traditional fullback, although Shkodran Mustafi did not receive raves for his performance.
Löw’s lineup choices have been called into question by some in the German media, particularly following the Ghana match. Germany has started a back line made up four central defenders in each game. Remember how well that worked for Diego Maradona in 2006?
In addition to Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker, who have filled the center back roles, Löw has started Boateng and Benedikt Lowndes, both center backs for their clubs, as his fullbacks.
This, while using Philipp Lahm as a defensive midfielder. That has been Lahm’s position this past season under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, but Lahm has been one of the best fullbacks in the world for several years and with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger in reserve, Germany has cover in midfield.
Löw courted controversy when he brought just one true striker with the team to Brazil, even if that striker was Miroslav Klose. Klose was not needed as Germany cruised past Portugal 4-0, but the veteran bailed Löw out in the Ghana match when he tied the game at 2-2, just minutes after subbing in. With his goal Klose tied Ronaldo, the original, for the record with 15 World Cup goals.
Germany will still be heavy favorites against the U.S., but the idea of the Americans earning a point versus Germany is not quite as outrageous today as it was a week ago.
Health and freshness will play a role in Klinsmann’s first 11 on Thursday. We know Altidore is out, but Klinsmann has said that Matt Besler is ready to go. There has been no word on Clint Dempsey, who left the Ghana match limping slightly, so we must assume that the U.S. captain is good to go.
So, with a place in the knockout rounds at stake, and all his players presumably healthy, we can expect Klinsmann to pick essentially the same team that started against Portugal. One possible change could be to sit Alejandro Bedoya. The midfielder’s hard work helped to keep Cristiano Ronaldo in check, Bedoya had been subbed out before the late goal, but the Nantes attacker contributed little going forward.
Brad Davis would be the likely replacement, unless Klinsmann turns to the more creative Mix Diskerud. Neither player has seen any time so far. If Klinsmann wants to roll the dice, might he start DeAndre Yedlin at the right midfield spot that he threw the youngster into against Portugal?
With that in mind, let’s look at how the U.S. can qualify for the Round of 16.
First the easy route, Win or tie on Thursday. No, neither of those results will be easy to accomplish versus the Germans, especially with Die Mannschaft still expected to be smarting from Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Ghana.
Easy, mathematically. If the U.S. MNT can beat or tie Germany, then the Americans will advance, simple right? But what if the U.S. lose the game on Thursday?
That’s when goal difference enters the picture, and the math gets a little more involved. In this scenario Germany would go through at the top of the group, so the battle would be for the second bid from Group G into the knockout rounds.
The United States have a plus one goal difference, Ghana has a minus one and thanks to the 4-0 beating that Germany put on them, Portugal has a minus four.
The best case for the U.S. in the event of a loss to Germany would be a draw between Ghana and Portugal. Otherwise the U.S will need to keep it close against the Germans and hope that neither Ghana or Portugal beats the other by a big enough score to overturn the Americans advantage in goal difference.
If the points and goal difference are the same, here are the rest of the tiebreakers via the FIFA rulebook.
1. Greatest number of points obtained in all group matches.
2. Goal difference in all group matches.
3. Greatest number of goals scored in all group matches.
4. Greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned.
5. Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned.
6. Greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned.
7. Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organizing Committee.