With one game remaining for each team in World Cup Group G, the table has Germany and the United States tied for first place on points (the Germans have an advantage of three in the goal-difference category) and Ghana and Portugal tied for third with a point apiece (Ghana have a better goal difference, also by a +3 margin relative to that of the Portuguese). Ghana face Portugal in their final group match, while the USA and Germany will play theirs head-to-head.
Conditions therefore are ripe for Germany and the USA to accept their respective positions as winners and runners-up of the group, respectively, with a draw ensuring a win-win scenario with both teams advancing to the round of 16 regardless of the result of the other game. Just don't count on it actually happening.
After his side's 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday, reporters repeatedly asked USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of agreeing to a draw with Germany before kickoff. Many brought up the infamous fixture between West Germany and Austria in Gijon in 1982 in which it was known before the match that both sides would advance if the Germans won by one or two goals. Surely enough, it took just 12 minutes for Horst Hrubesch to put the Mannschaft ahead, after which time neither side worked hard for a different result.
Klinsmann's response was to deny any possibility of conspiracy, despite his good relationship with former assistant and current Germany boss Joachim Low. At a post-match press conference (via The Guardian), the USA trainer told a reporter he was wrong for insinuating a repeat of the "Disgrace of Gijon":
"You're talking about a game that is decades ago. That is only a part of Germany’s history and not part of the United States' history. I think if you look at the past of the U.S. team, we always try to make things happen."
Indeed, the US have a history of competing for the sake of competition that extends before Klinsmann's time in charge. In 2009, the United States had already qualified for the 2010 World Cup entering their final match against a Costa Rica side that needed to hold onto a two-point advantage over Honduras. The Ticos went 2-0 ahead mid-way through the first half before a pair of late goals from the US, including a 94th-minute equalizer, ended their World Cup hopes.
More significantly, last fall the US were in a similar position of being able to eliminate Mexico with a loss to Panama in their final match. El Tri and the Stars and Stripes have always been bitter rivals, but Klinsmann's USA side showed no spite and fought hard for the win. They scored twice in injury time to secure a 3-2 win in Panama City, ending the hosts' dreams of qualifying and simultaneously confirming Mexico's place in a playoff against New Zealand.
It may seem convenient for Klinsmann, a hero for his performances for Germany as a player and the man who laid the foundation of the curent national team, to cut a deal with the Mannschaft, but his comments after the Portugal draw suggest he's out to prove a point. After the game, he bemoaned (via ESPN, h/t Yahoo) the fact that Germany had been given an extra day of rest and played their second group game in the relatively temperate climate of Fortaleza, while the US had to play in the rainforest city of Manaus.
"Everything was done for the big favorites to move on," Klinsmann said, somewhat bitterly.
Klinsmann always performed for Germany, but as a coach, he never commanded the respect and confidence of the German F.A. that he did as a player. There was even a plot to sack him (via SI) before his eventual resignation in 2006. Klinsmann claimed "burnout" as the cause, a curiosity given the relatively light schedule of a national team coach.
On the opposite side, Joachim Low will be motivated to set his Germany team back on course as they aim for their first World Cup title since 1990. Before the tournament, the trainer admitted (via ESPN) he could be forced to step down should Germany's World Cup campaign be considered a failure. With many expecting the Mannschaft to win the title despite a blight of injuries and harsh climate in Brazil, he has been left with a tall task.
Germany have all but qualified for the next round; so long as Ghana do not make up a +5 (or Portugal a +9) gap in goal difference in the last round, a loss for the Germans and a win for either Ghana or Portugal would still see the Mannschaft through to the Round of 16 as group runners-up. But the Germans looked tired and unconvincing in a 2-2 draw with Ghana in their last match. A second consecutive draw, even if contrived, would look bad for the Mannschaft. And giving up on an opportunity to build some form before the knockout rounds would be ill-advised for a Germany side with such pressure. Things may have been different had Germany beaten Ghana, but at this point it's hard to see Low accepting a draw against the United States.
It rather is a draw between Portugal and Ghana that would serve Germany and the United States well. Such a result would guarantee that the Mannschaft and Stars and Stripes advance to the Round of 16 while retaining their integrity. Now that's a win-win situation.
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