Cheering after a loss never felt so great
Nobody ever said the final day of a World Cup group stage was a normal way to watch sports. We knew heading into Thursday's U.S.-Germany game knowing the Americans likely couldn't beat the Germans, so it was time to hold on tightly and hope for the best from the other game.
Jurgen Klinsmann's team escaped the first half without conceding, but the German pressure indicated it wouldn't be long before a chance was taken. Thomas Muller eventually became the one to take it, scoring in the 55th minute after a Tim Howard punch fell favorably for him. That'd be the only goal in the German win, but a late Cristiano Ronaldo winner in the other game meant the U.S. will go through on goal difference.
Facing criticism stateside for some of his selections (warranted) and his statement that the U.S. cannot win the World Cup (unwarranted), Jurgen Klinsmann and the team must feel vindicated to escape such a group, no matter how ugly it was at times. Thinking back to the draw in December, most fans considered it a fool's mission. They did it, though, following the exactly blueprint optimists gave: Beat Ghana, draw with Portugal, hope the group's other results fall into place.
Moving on to life after the (group of) death, the Americans meet Belgium on Tuesday in a rematch of the May 2013 friendly that saw the Red Devils win 4-2 in Cleveland. Before the World Cup, the prospect of facing Belgium in the round of 16 seemed downright frightening, but the Belgians appeared flat at times in Group H, despite winning all three games and possessing some serious quality.
Germany's path to the final
Only Thomas Muller's fourth World Cup goal was required for Germany to top Group G and set up a game with Algeria in the round of 16. Algeria are much improved over 2010, but the Germans should handle take care of them, leading to a couple potentially interesting matches.
A victory over the Desert Foxes would set up a quarterfinal with the France-Nigeria winner. The Germans also find themselves on the same side of the bracket as the ridiculous South American quadrant of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay. While it is a stale prediction, a Brazil-Germany semifinal sounds incredible right now.
Ghana deserved a better ending
An airplane full of cash, a second-half lead on Germany, the expulsion of two players--what an interesting tournament it's been for Ghana. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari's surprising exit began the final day on a down note for the Black Stars, who had played in very enjoyable games for the first two match days and had a chance to advance with a win, a U.S. loss, and a slight goal differential swing.
The woeful day continued as John Boye's own goal gave Portugal a one-goal in the 31st minute. In the 57th minute, Asamoah Gyan's headed goal rejuvenated the Ghana team, who would have advanced with another goal. Just ten minutes from time, though, Abdul Dauda deflected the ball directly to Cristiano Ronaldo, who made no error in promptly beating the Ghanian keeper. Ghana failed to answer, thus bowing out of the tournament with a single point from three games.
Perhaps in a less difficult group, or maybe without the chaos surrounding the team, the Black Stars would have done better than a single point from the three games. Moral victories won't matter much to the Ghanians, but the Black Stars played some very enjoyable games in the tournament, and they would be my favorite team if the World Cup ever instituted a Europa League-style bracket to go along with the knockout rounds.
Belgium and Algeria advance from Group H
Against South Korea, Belgium manager Marc Wilmots rested some players, including Vincent Kompany, since the Red Devils had already secured a place in the knockout rounds. All that was left to decide was in which position, and their 1-0 win over South Korea gives Belgium the top spot in Group H, setting up Tuesday's match with the United States.
In Curitiba, Algeria's 1-1 draw with Russia sends the Algerian team to the knockout round for the first time in their history. Predictably, fans of the Desert Foxes are pretty happy. If this is how Algeria celebrates, I hope they never lose.
A look ahead to... a day off?
For the first time since Brazil-Croatia kicked off the tournament, we won't have an entire day's worth of games, which will be a little confusing to my Circadian rhythm. It may also be a chance to recharge, because starting Saturday, everything becomes even more real. Plus, anything less than a full day's preparation before Brazil-Chile could be very, very dangerous.