"Hello, is Jogi there? It's Jurgen. I'd like to see if he wants to go to the park to kick the ball around for a bit...about 90 minutes or so. Tell him there's no need to bring a goal. We won't be trying to score today."
When the World Cup groups were announced and the United States was placed with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, the immediate thought in trying to determine the best way out of the alleged Group of Death was for the U.S. to beat World Cup rival Ghana, earn a draw against Portugal and hope that those results were enough to get out of the group stage without needing a result against Germany.
What many—myself included—joked about at the time was that if the United States and Germany both found themselves needing a point to advance after two matches, nothing would be better than a friendly kick in the park.
Ninety minutes, no goals. If there were ever a scenario for which a conspiracy theory could be made, it would have to be this.
The last game of the group stage is upon us, and both USA and Germany need one point to advance, with Jurgen Klinsmann—one of the best Germany players in World Cup history—coaching the United States and Joachim Low—Klinsmann's former understudy as manager of the German national team—in charge of the opponents.
Let's not forget that with Klinsmann's appointment with the USMNT has come a plethora of German-American players such as Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler and Julian Green. The connections between these two teams are incredible.
Sure, a case can be made that all five players—and certainly both coaches—want to beat the other side, win the group and take pride in their efforts in Brazil.
Yes, that idea does seem nice. However, so does guaranteeing a spot in the final 16, and now that we're at this point with one match to play, the conspiracy question has to be raised.
And raised it was, to both coaches, by pundits around the world. Following the match against Portugal, Klinsmann was asked by a journalist in his post-match press conference, shown on ESPN2, if we should expect to see "another Gijon." Klinsmann said:
I don't think we are made for draws, really, unless it happens like it did [against Portugal] with two late goals, last second. I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group, so we want to go into this game, recover fast and go at Germany and get three points.
Gijon, for those unfamiliar with World Cup conspiracies of a generation long since passed, was the city in Spain that hosted the 1982 World Cup match between West Germany and Austria, where both teams knew a low-scoring victory for the Germans would ensure their advancement to the knockout stage over Algeria.
After scoring early to secure the lead that would get them out of the group, the Germans quite obviously took their foot off the proverbial gas, and both teams progressed to the next round.
The match was so controversial that it led to FIFA deciding that the final round of group-stage matches in future World Cups would be played simultaneously so that no team could be given the advantage of knowing what the other group opponents had already done.
It was a black eye for FIFA, surely, but darn it if something similar is not perfectly set up to happen again.
In this case, the timing of the other group match with Ghana and Portugal is inconsequential, as a draw guarantees that both the U.S. and Germany would advance.
Is either manager really that interested in knocking out the other or does the idea of a draw benefit both too much not to consider some kind of deal?
Low was asked about his relationship with Klinsmann after Germany's draw with Ghana on Saturday—and before the U.S. drew with Portugal—and he indicated that they have made no contact with each other during the tournament.
"My relationship with Jurgen is brilliant," he said, per GhanaWeb.com, "but we have not had any frequent contacts during this tournament and I believe it will stay that way till after the tournament."
That wasn't exactly a firm rebuke of any conspiracy concerns, was it?
People may be sick of hearing about this conspiracy theory already, and part of even addressing it is nothing more than a distraction from the terrible ending to the Portugal match for the United States, who must surely feel that they should already be through to the knockout stage of the tournament. Plus, it's fun to talk about conspiracies, so perhaps this is nothing more than that.
Or perhaps it's nothing more than wishful thinking, knowing that the goal of this World Cup run for Klinsmann was to get out of the group and advance to the knockout stage, something that is guaranteed with one point against Germany.
Before the tournament, advancing out of the group seemed unlikely to many. Failure to advance at this point would be a colossal disappointment.
If the United States could avoid that by working out a deal with Germany, should they? Would fans be okay with making a treaty with the Germans if it ensured getting out of the group? Can you even believe we are talking about this at the World Cup?
The answer to the last one is yes, of course. Everyone is talking about this. In the ESPN post-match show on Sunday, Mike Tirico asked if he could "shoot the elephant in the room" before bringing up the theory, stating it's the story we will all be covering for the next four days (if you're sick of it now, just avoid pre-match coverage altogether this week).
This is a real thing, whether it happens or not.
In answering the question, Alexi Lalas replied: "Why would Jogi Low want to do that?"
But it's Klinsmann he should be wondering about, not the German manager. (What I mean is...the German manager who manages Germany, not the German manager who manages the Americans, many of whom are also part German.)
Anyway, why wouldn't Low want to do it? A loss and, well, anything can happen in the other match. Ghana could win 4-0 and Germany could suddenly be out of the tournament.
A draw is the same as a win to Germany. Low's team is ahead on goal differential, so a draw gives Germany the group.
Finishing top in Group G could mean facing Algeria or Russia in the first knockout game, while finishing second sets up a bracket that will almost certainly feature matches against Belgium and, if still alive, Argentina (the first-place team will probably get France in the quarterfinals, which may be a tougher out than Argentina, to be fair).
This tournament has been pretty wacky, but Low has to want to win the group to avoid the talent-laden European neighbors to the west in the round of 16. But still, how much will it be worth to him—or Klinsmann—to try to go for the victory if a draw is enough to advance?
ESPN's Steve McManaman had the most logical response to the conspiracy question:
The one thing I will say is that of course we think that will not exist and both teams will go for a win, but…in the course of play if it just gets to 75 or 80 minutes and it's 0-0 or 1-1 and both teams think they don't want to take any chances, of course it's going to be in their minds, both will go through.
The panel seemed to agree with that logic, as well as Kasey Keller's response suggesting that players will think to protect first and avoid an overlapping run if it exposes their team at the back late in the match. There is no incentive in trying to win if it causes your team to lose, after all.
"It’s a conversation people have," Tirico interjected. "Nobody thinks that Jurgen's texting Jogi tonight saying, 'Let's fire up a draw here guys,' you know?"
"Do you know something we don't?" Macca joked.
It's not like FIFA isn't full of back-room deals and conspiracies already. Some people think this entire World Cup was bought and paid for months ago and that who advances from the group stage doesn't matter at all as long as Brazil gets to the World Cup final. That wouldn't make a deal between the Americans and Germans right, but it's not as appalling when taking into consideration the influences at play in and around FIFA.
And yet, it's un-American to think our team wouldn't go out on any field and give its best effort, no matter the circumstances. So, no, there probably won't be any late-night texting between pals.
And, frankly, there doesn't have to be. The United States is in very good shape to advance, despite being shell-shocked after a late draw with Portugal. A victory and the USMNT win the Group of Death; a draw sees them through to the knockout stages for the second World Cup in a row.
A loss does create some worry, as head-to-head results are the third tiebreaker if teams are even on points, after goal differential and total goals scored. A one-goal loss to Germany would put the U.S. even on goal differential with Ghana, which would mean a two-goal victory for the latter over Portugal would see the Black Stars advance over the United States.
Portugal needs to make up five goals on the United States, meaning a 2-0 loss to Germany and a 3-0 Portugal win over Ghana would be the minimum Portugal needs in order to advance. A 3-0 U.S. loss to Germany and a 2-0 Portugal win, for comparison, would put both teams at four points with a minus-two goal differential and tied on goals scored. In that scenario, FIFA would draw lots.
Talk about a conspiracy theory!
In the end, the U.S. advances if either match ends in a draw, and with both Ghana and Portugal having everything to play for, that may help the United States more than whatever happens against Germany.
As much as I called this scenario before the tournament began—and as much as I love a good conspiracy—there will be no handshake deals between Klinsmann and Low before the match.
No matter what we conspiracy theorists think, the U.S. vs. Germany will be more than just a lazy kickabout in the park. Probably...
Follow Dan Levy on Twitter: Follow @DanLevyThinks
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