How the U.S. Can Advance in the World Cup After Yesterday’s Thrilling, Disappointing Draw

The U.S. missed out on a chance to clinch a berth into the knockout stages in the World Cup yesterday. But hope is not lost.

Jun 22, 2014; Manaus, Amazonas, BRAZIL; USA goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) shakes hands with defender Geoff Cameron (20) following the game against Portugal during the 2014 World Cup at Arena Amazonia. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. Photo | Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 22, 2014; Manaus, Amazonas, BRAZIL; USA goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) shakes hands with defender Geoff Cameron (20) following the game against Portugal during the 2014 World Cup at Arena Amazonia. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. Photo | Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It looked as if the United States men’s national team was going to advance in the World Cup yesterday.

In a World Cup where it’s been said anything can happen, the United States gave up a goal inside five minutes. But the team rallied back: Jermaine Jones scored in the 64th minute and Clint Dempsey knocked in a ball off his stomach in the 81st minute. The U.S. had a 2-1 lead against Portugal; it would be their first win in World Cup history after trailing at halftime.




Then, heartbreak. Cristiano Ronaldo crossed it to Varela, who headed it home in the 95th minute to secure the 2-2 draw. It was the last kick of the game. Instead of getting the win and clinching a spot in the Round of 16, the U.S. now may have to get a result against Germany in its final match. Defend a little better for just a few more seconds, and they would have had the opportunity to rest players in the final group stage game. "Football's cruel sometimes," goalie Tim Howard said afterward.

It's odd to feel disappointed about the result — Portugal is one of the top soccer teams in the world, and the U.S. looked like they were going to lose the match for much of the game. But giving up a late equalizer when you're just seconds away from victory is disappointing. The U.S. should have won the game. They didn't. Fans can be sad if they want to.

Fortunately, the United States still has a good chance at advancing to the knockout rounds, though they'll need to upset Germany if they want to win the group. (Win yesterday and a draw would have been good enough to win it.) Here are some scenarios:

  • WIN vs. Germany: U.S. wins the group.
  • DRAW vs. Germany: Germany wins the group, but the U.S. also advances.
  • LOSE vs. Germany: The U.S. can still advance here, but it gets tricky. If Portugal and Ghana tie, then the U.S. will no matter the result. If Portugal or Ghana win, the U.S. still might be in good shape to advance: The first tiebreaker is goal difference. The U.S. currently sits at +1. Ghana is -1 and Portugal -4 as a result of their 4-0 thrashing to Germany in the opener. So if the U.S. loses and Ghana or Portugal win, those two teams would have to make up the goal difference. The 2-2 draw yesterday also helps the Americans, as goals for is the second tiebreaker if the teams are tied in goal difference.

Still confused? Here's an example: Let's say the U.S. loses 1-0, and Portugal beats Ghana 2-1. The U.S. and Portugal would each have four points, but the U.S. goal differential would be 0, compared to -3 for Portugal. The U.S. would advance.

Here's another: If the U.S. loses 2-1 and Ghana beats Portugal 1-0, both teams would have 4 points and have the same goal differential. But the U.S. would advance on goals scored (5 to 4). If the U.S. loses 1-0 and Ghana beats Portugal 1-0, the teams would each have 4 points and the same goal differential, and the same number of goals scored. Fortunately, the U.S. would go through on their head-to-head win against Ghana.

This isn't that confusing, really: The U.S. needs to win or draw against Germany. And if they lose, they still might get through depending on the Ghana-Portugal result. FiveThirtyEight still gives the U.S. a 76% chance of advancing. Both USA-Germany and Portugal-Ghana are at noon on Thursday. Yes, it will be nerve-wracking once again. Go, go USA!

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