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June 23. 2014 10:45PM

Team USA still in a good place approaching final World Cup match


United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann moves in to shake the hand of United States defender Matt Besler (5) after their 2-2 tie with Portugal in a 2014 World Cup game at Arena Amazonia on Sunday. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

There are two realities to contemplate after the United States’ tension-packed, 2-2 draw with Portugal Sunday in the World Cup.

The first is that Team USA was seconds away from an historic World Cup victory when one of the best players in the world made a play that only best players in the world can make.

The service that Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo delivered on the last-gasp header by Silvestre Varela was a masterful moment of brilliance.

The glass-half-empty view is that the Americans blew the opportunity to clinch a spot in the round of 16 and now must get some kind of positive result in their final Group G match against Germany on Thursday or risk not advancing at all.

But then there is the other reality — the one that has the glass half-full and acknowledges that the U.S. team is in exactly the position it had hoped it would be going into that final match with Germany.

Before the Cup games began, if you had asked for the most likely scenario for Team USA to make its stay in Brazil an extended one, virtually everyone would have said: beat Ghana, get a draw with Portugal, and hope for a result against Germany but pray that four points would be enough to advance past group play.

Well, if Ronaldo had been Ronaldo a few minutes earlier, the prevailing spirit today would be that the Americans got just what they were looking for with one match to play.

But the Portuguese star waited until virtually the last play of the game to help pull his nation from the jaws of elimination, and that can’t help but skew things a little.

“Obviously when it gets in at the last second, it’s unfortunate,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It was an amazing game; an amazing performance by our guys. Nothing more you could ask from them.

“We just have to go forward the tougher way. You got to get a result against Germany, and that’s what we are going to do.

“You live through those emotions positively and negatively and then you move on. We won’t talk anymore about Portugal. The World Cup is always about the next thing that comes up.”

That is easier said than done because the image of Varela slipping by two American defenders and heading in a perfect cross from Ronaldo is the kind that sears into the memory.

Midfielder Michael Bradley will think about that turnover in midfield that sent Nani on a break to give the ball to Ronaldo.

U.S. defenders Geoff Cameron, Matt Bessler and Fabian Johnson will wonder how they let Varela get to the only spot to which Ronaldo could have delivered a game-tying cross.

“Certainly it’s a disappointment that we didn’t finish off the job,” Bradley conceded. “The way it ends, you rack your mind thinking, ‘Can you do this better, can you do that better?’

“But that’s soccer. It can certainly be a cruel game sometimes.”

But honestly, the U.S. players literally have no time to dwell on what cannot be changed.

Everything is still right there in front of the United States.

“We’re disappointed, but at the end of the day you’ve got to look at the positives,” said striker Clint Dempsey who used his stomach to put in a cross from Graham Zusi to give the USA a 2-1 lead win the 81st minute. “It’s going down to the last game and hopefully we get the job done.”

And that is why the Portugal match, as excoriating as it turned out, must be purged from the minds of the U.S. players.

If what happened against Portugal is still in the heads of the U.S. players, getting that result against a German team that is just as desperate will be that much more difficult.

Here is the situation.

With four points, both the United States and Germany will advance with a win or a draw in their match.

With one point, Ghana will advance if it beats Portugal and the U.S.-Germany game produces a winner, and then if it wins the tiebreaker with the loser.

It’s the same situation for Portugal if it beats Ghana.

If Portugal and Ghana tie, then both the USA and Germany will advance.

With only a tie needed for both teams to advance, the conspiracy theorists are already wondering if the USA and Germany will collaborate.

The reason that FIFA mandated that the two final games in group competition be played at the same time was to lessen the likelihood of such an event.

“I don’t think that we are made for draws unless it happens like tonight,” Klinsmann said when asked about playing for a draw with Germany. “Both teams want to win the game and win the group.

“We will go at Germany to get three points. That’s seven points and we will be in the driver’ s seat in the round of 16 and that is our goal.”

Yes, the opportunity to have already moved on in the tournament was lost in the closing seconds against Portugal.

The opportunity to advance to round of 16, however, is still sitting in front of the USA.


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