Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
RECIFE, Brazil — The U.S. Men’s National Team is off to the Round of 16, but not with the result that it had in mind.
Thomas Muller scored a superb second-half strike and Germany defeated the U.S., 1-0, in a rainy World Cup group game at Arena Pernambuco on Thursday afternoon. The victory saw Germany finish atop Group G with seven points while the Americans came in second with four and advanced to the knockout stage ahead of Portugal based on goal differential.
“We wanted a tie out of this game, but maybe in the beginning we had a bit too much respect,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Then. more and more we got into the game. We should have created a bit more chances – that’s really something we have to improve on - but overall, tremendous energy, tremendous effort from the whole side.
“It’s huge for us getting out of this group that everybody said, ‘You have no chance (in).’ We took that chance and now we move on. We really want to prove a point.”
Muller broke the deadlock in the 55th minute of a match with few actual chances due to the wet conditions. Tim Howard initially saved Per Mertesacker’s headed effort following a corner kick from the right, but the ball fell to Muller before the midfielder hit a beautiful curler into the back of the net.
The Americans had two late opportunities to tie the game through Alejandro Bedoya and Clint Dempsey, but neither was able to capitalize on the looks they had inside of the penalty area.
The Germans were on the front foot in the opening stages of a game played in front of 41,876 soaked fans, controlling most of the possession and sending in a bevy of crosses that the U.S. back line struggled to deal with.
One of those crosses came in from the right and skipped by the U.S. defense before reaching Lukas Podolski, who skied a volley over and wide from the left corner of the penalty area.
The Americans eventually settled into the game and some nice build-up play led to a chance in the 22nd minute when Graham Zusi buzzed a shot just high of the crossbar.
“We needed to do a better job of not letting them have the ‘German Effect,’” said Zusi. “A lot of times teams will just sit back and allow them to come at them, but we didn’t really want them to do that. It took about 15-20 minutes for us to realize that we can knock the ball around as well and we had some good moments in that first half.”
Both teams continued to search for a goal, but the wet conditions limited their chances in the scoreless first half. Germany had the only other real opportunity of the opening 45 minutes when Mesut Ozil cut inside of Matt Besler and got a shot off that Howard pushed away.
Howard also denied Mertesacker’s header 10 minutes after halftime, but could do nothing when Muller curled in the follow-up attempt from the left side. The goal was Muller’s fourth of the tournament and tied him with Neymar and Leo Messi in the Golden Boot race.
“Obviously, those things are things that we now look at the video and see what we did wrong,” said Klinsmann. “Every time you concede a goal you did something wrong. It’s just normal, and it’s mostly sequence of mistakes that happen there but it happened there as well.
“If you get him that one chance or just the opportunity to kind of have a clear picture at goal, Thomas is a player (who) doesn’t need two chances. He’s fine with one and he puts it into the net. We’ll have a closer look at it.”
Germany continued to push forward and could’ve taken a bigger lead had it not been for some fine last-ditch defending from Gonzalez, Besler and Kyle Beckerman.
That kept the U.S. in the game and allowed for substitute Alejandro Bedoya to have a chance in stoppage time to pull the Americans level, but the ball was cleared away by a sliding tackle.
Dempsey then had a header from close range skip off the soaked grass and over the crossbar, leaving the U.S. and its fans frustrated until they were informed by the scoreboard that the team was reaching the Round of 16 after Portugal did not make up the goal difference it needed to advance in a 2-1 win vs. Ghana.
“It’s great to advance out of the group, a group a lot of people thought we wouldn’t advance from,” said Dempsey. “We would have liked to end the last game on a better note, we would like to have got a result. But at the end we’re excited about getting to the knockout stages and hopefully we can do better than the last World Cup.”
The U.S. will head to Salvador next for its Round of 16 match on July 1. The Americans will play the winner of Group H, which will be either Belgium or Algeria.