The United States reached the knockout stage of consecutive World Cups for the first time, just not the way the Americans wanted.
Germany beat the U.S. 1-0 Thursday in soggy Recife on Thomas Mueller’s 55th-minute goal to win Group G, but the Americans held onto second place when Portugal defeated Ghana 2-1 in a game played simultaneously in Brasilia.
The Germans, three-time World Cup champions, finished with seven points, while the U.S. had four after allowing a 95th-minute goal against Portugal on Sunday in a 2-2 draw. Portugal also had four, but the Americans advanced from the so-called “Group of Death” because their goal difference was even and the Portuguese were minus three.
The Americans will play the Group H winner, likely Belgium put possibly Algeria, Monday in Salvador.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And the most anticipated match in U.S. soccer history is now history. In World Cup competition today in Brazil, Germany defeated the U.S. one-to-nil on a goal by Thomas Mueller just after the second half of the match began. Woohoo - because this being the World Cup, the U.S. lost, but still wins - advancing out of the so-called group of death and into the round of 16, thanks to a victory by Portugal over Ghana. What? Joining us is Doug Tribou from NPR's Only A Game.
So first of all, just remind us, what did Portugal and Ghana have to do with U.S. losing to Germany but still advancing?
DOUG TRIBOU, BYLINE: Well, there are a bunch of scenarios here. Obviously if the U.S. had won, they would've advanced - a tie, they would've advanced. But Portugal and Ghana tying, playing to a draw, they would've advanced. But in this case, Portugal winning set up another tiebreaker format which involves goal differentials.
Portugal was blown out in a game. They lost an earlier game 4 to nothing. And the U.S. would've had to fall by, like, four goals today to fall behind. There's sort of some complicated math there, but basically...
YOUNG: Yeah, it's a point system.
TRIBOU: It's a point system. The number of goals - Portugal did not score enough goals to offset their tie with the U.S. So the U.S. advances. There's nothing quite like the sweet smell of defeat and someone else's victory and then you having a victory.
YOUNG: Oh, I tell you the tweets that have been flying are hilarious. Let me see if I can pull some up. Laura Bassett was tweeting out "adequate, adequate..."
YOUNG: Somebody - oh Peter Sagal, you know, from "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me..."
TRIBOU: Wait Wait, yeah.
YOUNG: ...Tweeted out "Onward USA, ambivalently" because of the way this works. And, you know, many Americans who are really falling in love with World Cup soccer this time around are reading some of this stuff. I was reading - here's a sentence - the U.S. finished with a 1-1-1 mark for four points. Now remember I said 1-1-1 - that's three. But the U.S. finished with a 1-1-1 mark for four points - same as Portugal. But with a two-goal edge in differential. So there's a lot of math there.
TRIBOU: Right and it gets a lot simpler in the next round. The knockout round is just that. It's one game, win or lose. They do not play to a draw. They will play overtime periods. And if those are still unresolved, if you still have a draw after the overtime periods, then they'll go to penalty kicks. So at the end of every game we will have a clear winner and a clear situation in this next round.
YOUNG: Well, a lot of this play - if you're watching with the sound off - not that I would be because I'm hard at work here.
YOUNG: But if you were watching with the sound off, it looked like the ball was very often down at the goal that the U.S. was defending, rarely at the other one.
TRIBOU: That is absolutely correct. Germany clearly had the dominant possession time in this game. They were in control, gave themselves a lot of chances. I think the wet field sort of hindered play here a little bit as well. But the Germans definitely were in control of the ball most of the match. The U.S. did not have a lot of good looks at the goal. It could have been a lot worse. With that kind of time of possession, Germany easily could've gone up 2 or 3 to nothing.
YOUNG: Well, and you know there are people who are suspicious. The Portuguese for instance, you know, are already saying what happened here? Because sometimes I guess teams collude so they can both go forward. Is there a sense of that?
TRIBOU: Right, well, I mean, the ultimate collusion here would've been if they had played to a draw because a tie would've advanced Germany and the U.S. But this game looked pretty contentious. And I guess you could make the argument if you were Portugal fan - hey, could Germany have put a few more home? They were in the U.S. end the whole game. There's always that kind of complication. But that is international soccer. Not something we really see in the traditional U.S. sports.
YOUNG: So Doug, just a few seconds here. So Germany looked pretty good today. The U.S. got through, which is fantastic. But how did they look?
TRIBOU: They did not look great today. This isn't a momentum-builder. We don't know who they'll face yet. When they advance, they'll face the top team from group H. Right now that could be Belgium, but Algeria and Russia are also in the mix there. They need to play better at the next round, definitely.
YOUNG: Well, but they got through.
TRIBOU: That's right.
YOUNG: Doug Tribou, from "Only A Game." The U.S. lost today - woohoo - because they are going on. World Cup soccer, got to love it. Thanks, Doug.
TRIBOU: Thanks, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.