The United States will be playing for its World Cup life against Germany on Thursday.
As daunting as this proposition is, it's even more difficult for United States fans to think about how close they were to a relaxing day watching their beloved team play with qualification for the knockout stage already in hand.
The United States were less than 60 seconds from advancing to the knockout stage with a win over Portugal on Sunday. Instead, a Cristiano Ronaldo cross found Silvestre Varela surging through the penalty box, and his thumping header tied the game at 2-2 and turned the United States' matchup against Germany into one of the biggest in the team's history.
For those fans who have nothing to do besides obsess about the possible outcomes until the game begins, this is the one chart you need:
excuse me while I throw darts at this all night pic.twitter.com/mpX4g0eKxM— Riley McAtee (@Riley_McAtee) June 24, 2014
For the United States, all they must do is avoid defeat to move on to the next round. That still won't deter coach Jurgen Klinsmann from trying to win this contest against his home country. Klinsmann, via a media report from the United States soccer team's official website:
Well, the message is very simple: we want to beat Germany. We want to be first in our group, so we’re not thinking about a tie. We know a tie gets us through too, which if at the end of the day it ends up a tie because it’s an exciting game and a very close game, so be it.
This may be too much for United States fans to handle. It doesn't help that the Portugal-Ghana game will kick off at the same time, leaving the outcome in balance until the final whistle is blown in both contests.
Here are the match odds, viewing info and players to watch for this crucial World Cup match.
USA vs. Germany Match Info
Time (ET): 12 p.m.
Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Match Odds: Germany 1/4, USA 15/2, Draw 11/5
Note: Match odds courtesy of Odds Shark.
Players to Watch
Jermaine Jones, United States
Jermaine Jones has been an absolute rock for the United States in this World Cup. The deployment of Kyle Beckerman in front of the back line has freed up Jones to join the attack more often. His ability to stay in forward positions could help him conjure up another goal like the stunner he thrashed into the back of the net against Portugal.
Via ESPN's Twitter account:
It's definitely not too early to rewatch Jermaine Jones' brilliant goal -> http://t.co/7bLebzFk2w— ESPN (@espn) June 22, 2014
Jones—as one of the team's resident German-Americans—is also quite familiar with many of the players on Germany's squad. He played three games for the German national team before switching allegiance to America. He still feels a connection to both countries, but will do his best to bring a result to the United States, via Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News:
I always say that I’m proud of both countries. I grew up in Germany. They give me a lot. There was my first step, my first games and first leagues. But I’m still proud too when I hear the anthem from the United States. I will close my eyes and let everything go through me, then try to make the game.
Keep an eye on Jones' passionate play, as he is also liable to draw a card from the official.
Jones has a penchant for racking up yellow cards wearing red, white and blue; if he gets into trouble early in the match, it could temper his physical style of play and hurt the United States in the pivotal midfield battle. Control and composure will be key to Jones having the impact he is capable of in this match.
Thomas Mueller, Germany
If the goals are going to come for Germany in this match, Thomas Mueller will be the likely source.
Mueller's already proven he's not to be trifled with thanks to his hat trick in Germany's 4-0 win over Portugal. He picked up an assist against Ghana as well, leading ESPN Stats & Info to point out his impact on Germany's attack:
Coach Joachim Low is playing him as a nominal forward, but Mueller spends plenty of time picking up the ball in the midfield and drawing defenders out of position. He's also apparently yet to see a cross he doesn't like in his entire career, as this highlight reel shows:
Mueller doesn't look particularly athletic, but he is a nightmare for opposing defenses. Just when teams think they can relax, Mueller shows up with a simple strike to throw things into chaos again.
Geoff Cameron, United States
Germany will be all too happy to punish any mistakes from the United States on Thursday. Center-back Geoff Cameron, who bungled a clearance against Portugal that led to an early goal from Nani, will have to be at his best in order to contain Germany's attack and provide cover for a hobbled Matt Besler.
His performances have varied widely in this World Cup. MLSSoccer.com's Matthew Doyle praised him after the Ghana match:
I, and most, had Jones as MotM. Spare a thought, though, for Geoff Cameron and Kyle Beckerman. Both excellent and crucial.— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) June 17, 2014
While The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre couldn't let his mistakes go unnoticed against Portugal:
Geoff Cameron at the back just let the kid run by him. What an awful game by Cameron. Ronaldo with a perfect pass keeps Portugal alive— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) June 22, 2014
Cameron was mostly anonymous against Portugal—sometimes a good thing for defenders—save for his two crucial gaffes. He will need to clear his head and come back with a razor-sharp performance against Germany.
His height will also be crucial in this match. As TIME's Bill Saporito writes, Germany is masterful on set pieces and in aerial duels:
And don’t forget what former U.S. keeper Kasey Keller calls 'monsters in the box.' Germany has always relied on scoring goals by winning free kicks or corner kicks and sending a bunch of giants into the penalty box for headers. This team is no different: it has three outfield players who are 6-ft 3-in. or better, including the 6-ft 5-in. Per Mertesacker. The Americans are going to have to smash some heads to defend.
Cameron will need to be aggressive on set pieces and make sure the rest of his teammates are organized and know who they are marking.
Miroslav Klose, Germany
Miroslav Klose is more of a bonus player to watch during the match, as coach Low is unlikely to include him in the team's starting XI.
He does happen to be the poacher to end all poachers, and the 36-year-old proved against Ghana he is still one of the best right-place, right-time strikers in the world. Klose scored from roughly three yards out in the 71st minute against Ghana, just minutes after coming into the match as a substitute.
ESPN's Paul Carr showed just how up close and personal Klose's goals get in the World Cup:
The possible introduction of Klose should frighten any United States fan, especially if the Stars and Stripes are tied or winning the match and the Ghana-Portugal score isn't helping their advancement cause.
If there is any player that can break millions of hearts with a single touch on the ball, it is Klose.