The US plays its final World Cup group match at noon today against three time champions Germany, and there are plenty of stories to follow on and off the field:
The master and his apprentice
Jürgen Klinsmann, the US team’s likable coach, is one of the legends of German soccer, no small claim for a country with such an illustrious history in the sport.
He won the World Cup as a player in 1990, and in 1996 he was captain when Germany won the European Championships. He was also coach of the German national team in 2006 at the World Cup hosted in Germany. Playing a new, more attacking style of football, Klinsmann’s Germany finished in third place.
His assistant at that tournament, Joachim (Jogi) Low, who is now in charge of Germany, led the country to another semifinal and third-place finish in 2010. Some pundits think that Low was really the brains behind Klinsmann’s operation, which could add intrigue to today’s matchup.
The urge to draw
Both the US and Germany only need to secure a draw (and one competition point) to progress to the next round of the tournament. If they were to follow an argument put forward in game theory, they should collude to achieve that. (If they did, Germany, one of the genuine tournament favorites, would still secure the top spot in Group G, meaning it would face a theoretically weaker team in the next round.)
Yet securing such an outcome is easier said than done, and both coaches have ruled it out publicly. The teams have never reached a stalemate in past competitive encounters. Collusion has happened at World Cups before, most infamously in 1982, when Germany (then West Germany) played Austria in what has become known as the “non-agression pact of Gijon.” If things are all square late in the game, don’t be surprised if the intensity drops and it all gets a bit boring.
America’s German contingent
Five players in the US World Cup squad were born in Germany (to American servicemen parents). At least two—midfielder Jermaine Jones (who scored a spectacular goal against Portugal) and right back Fabian Johnson—should start. “We talk German sometimes, but we have respect for the guys who don’t talk German,” Jones recently said. “So if we see that somebody is there with us that doesn’t understand the German language, then we talk 100% English.”
Breaking a tie
Americans have embraced the World Cup with a fervor that even the soccer evangelists (like me) did not expect. But some are still coming to grips with the intricacies of sport and the exquisite torture supporting a team entails. And, if the US is losing late in the game, many will have to get their heads around the concept of goal difference.
The US can still lose to Germany and go through to the next round.The simplest way is if Ghana and Portugal (whose match also starts at noon ET) tie. The US will also proceed, as long as it doesn’t concede too many goals, and either Ghana and or Portugal win by a wide enough margin. If goal difference is even, it gets a bit more complicated.
Expect plenty of panic, misinformation and conjecture on Twitter if we get to that!
The bigger picture
No one wants to go there, but in the event that the US is eliminated, will Americans abandon the tournament, or keep watching? If it gets through, how high can the ratings get?
Kickoff: noon ET. Venue: Arena Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil. TV (USA) ESPN.