The United States joined Germany in the last 16 of the World Cup despite losing 1-0 to the Europeans in Recife on Thursday.
Thomas Mueller's precise second-half strike was the difference between the two sides in a game affected by heavy and persistent rain. The United States nevertheless claimed second spot in Group G on goal difference after Portugal beat Ghana 2-1 in the other group game in Brasilia.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff greeted the final whistle with relief, with their players rarely looking like scoring a goal in 90 minutes of draining football against the country Klinsmann both coached and represented as a player.
However, they produced another solid defensive display to at least prevent Germany from adding to their advantage over the course of the game, with John Brooks' late winner in the opener against Ghana ultimately proving crucial in their progression to the knockout stages.
The game went ahead on time in Recife despite heavy rainfall in the area, which had rendered much of the city under inches of water and had raised fears about the potential need for postponement. But the vast majority of supporters made it to the ground in time for kick-off—there had been fears they would not be able to, or that it would be unsafe—and so the game went ahead as scheduled.
Klinsmann made a few changes to his starting lineup that caught some by surprise, with Omar Gonzalez replacing Geoff Cameron in defence and Brad Davis selected ahead of Alejandro Bedoya.
His opposite number—and former assistant—Joachim Low also made two changes, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski coming in for Sami Khedira and Mario Goetze.
The first half started brightly but became subdued the closer the break came, with Germany struggling to break down their well-organised opponents and the U.S. increasingly getting to grips with the task in front of them.
Podolski lashed over from just inside the box after two minutes, and Toni Kroos saw an effort blocked shortly afterwards, but beyond that Germany struggled to create clear chances in the opening stages. Partly that was the result of some obdurate American defenders; more than once Gonzalez or his defensive partner Matt Besler would dive in at the last moment to prevent a German attacker from getting a clear sight of goal.
Sitting deep and struggling to contain their opponents, Klinsmann's side were reduced to just a couple of glimpses at Manuel Neuer's goal. The goalkeeper looked well beaten as Graham Zusi's curling effort flashed over from 25 yards, but beyond that, Neuer was a virtual spectator, although he could have been in trouble had Jermaine Jones done a better job of bringing down Michael Bradley's defence-splitting ball over the top.
The final moments of the half saw both sides struggling as the rain continued to pour down, although Tim Howard did make one save to keep out Mesut Ozil's rather tame strike.
The second half saw a more determined and focused Germany emerge, with Miroslav Klose added to the fray at the expense of the mediocre Podolski, and they grabbed their rewards almost immediately.
Germany pushed the U.S. defence further and further back in the early stages of the half, and that pressure eventually told. Howard made a good sprawling save to deny Per Mertesacker's glancing header, but his parry fell perfectly to the feet of Mueller on the edge of the box, as the Bayern Munich forward scored his ninth goal in World Cup matches with a controlled curling finish inside the far post.
It was Mueller's fourth goal of the tournament, drawing him level with Neymar and Lionel Messi at the top of the goalscoring charts.
Klinsmann responded immediately, bringing Bedoya into the fray, but initially at least, that only served to increase the frequency of the fouls committed by the team in white.
At this point, with Ghana back on terms with Portugal in the other game, another goal for the African side would have sent the United States out of the competition. But the U.S., for all their efforts, could not seem to create a chance of note, with Mats Hummels keeping Clint Dempsey very quiet.
Then, good news from the other contest—Portugal restoring their lead thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's goal, meaning only a flurry of goals in the closing 10 minutes of either game could feasibly prevent the U.S. from reaching the last 16.
In injury time, with qualification essentially assured, the U.S. then produced two chances from nowhere in efforts to steal a point. The first came from a brilliant sweeping move, as substitute DeAndre Yedlin combined with Jones and Dempsey to play in Bedoya, whose close-range shot was brilliantly blocked by Philipp Lahm.
Then, from the resultant corner, there was another chance—Dempsey agonisingly heading over from yards out under severe pressure from the Germany defence.
Nevertheless, it did not affect matters unduly, with both sides going through as first and second in their group.
Both sides' knockout opponents are still to be finalised, with Group H due to be concluded later on Thursday evening. But the United States are almost certain to face Belgium in Salvador on Tuesday, with Germany probably meeting Algeria (or possibly Russia) in Porto Alegre a day earlier.
Germany will feel confident about that matchup, unbeaten as they are in this tournament having looked dangerous in attack and well-organised in defence.
The United States' meeting with Belgium will be intriguing, an interesting contrast in style. Belgium have the attacking talent, but the United States will be a tough side to break down if their organisation and work rate during the group stages is continued.
For now, however, both countries can celebrate their continued participation in matters in Brazil.
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Via BBC's live broadcast, Jurgen Klinsmann told reporters afterwards:
It’s huge. Obviously we wanted at least a tie out of this game, but maybe in the beginning we showed them too much respect. We need to create more chances, that is something we have to work on.
Everybody said we had no chance [of going through], we took that chance and now we really want to move on and make a point.
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