Scenarios for United States to Advance to World Cup Round of 16

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The United States came within seconds of guaranteeing themselves passage to the round of 16 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but an injury-time equaliser saw them end up drawing 2-2 with Portugal.

Jurgen Klinsmann's side had to come from behind after conceding an early goal to Nani, but Clint Dempsey put Team USA in front with only nine minutes left on the clock after Jermaine Jones had earlier hit a blockbuster from the edge of the penalty area to equalise.

JERMAINE JONES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!USA 1-1 https://t.co/DbPzuAwlnh

— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 22, 2014

A Michael Bradley error in midfield, however, led to a late Portugal breakaway—and a Cristiano Ronaldo cross which was headed in by Silvestre Varela. It leaves Team USA requiring a point to guarantee that they qualify for the knockouts, with their final match to come against Germany in Group G.

However, many permutations still remain, with all four nations still able to qualify ahead of the last matchday. In the other game, Ghana will play Portugal—both of those teams are on one point from two matches, with Germany and USA on four.

Here are scenarios in which the U.S. can advance:

Team USA victory against Germany

Let's get the most simple one out of the way.

If the United States win, they finish top of the group, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. They would then face the runner-up in Group H, which is currently Algeria.

Team USA draw with Germany

Should Klinsmann's side emulate their achievements against Portugal and take a single point against European opposition in the face of Germany—Klinsmann's home country, of course—then both the United States and Germany would be guaranteed passage to the last 16.

Klinsmann won the World Cup in 1990 as a player with West Germany and managed them at the 2006 finals
Klinsmann won the World Cup in 1990 as a player with West Germany and managed them at the 2006 finalsRobert Cianflone/Getty Images

They would both move on to five points from three games, and regardless of the outcome of the other match, neither Ghana nor Portugal would be able to match that tally.

Team USA would end the group phase in second place, as their goal difference is inferior to that of Germany's—plus-one to plus-four.

As a result they would instead face the winners of Group H in the round of 16, which is currently Belgium and is likely to stay that way.

Team USA lose to Germany

A defeat in their final group match would not necessarily spell the end of the World Cup for the United States.

They would finish with four points from their three games, which is the same maximum that either Ghana or Portugal could manage—if one of them manages to win that decisive match. A draw in that game would leave both on two points, leaving USA to progress in second place.

If Ghana takes victory, goal difference comes into play, and the African side would need to overhaul the United States' superior tally to finish in second place.

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  Fabian Johnson of the United States controls the ball against Jonathan Mensah of Ghana during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At present, Ghana holds a minus-one goal difference, so the following situations could occur and still see the United States to the last 16:

  • Team USA will progress if they lose by one and Ghana win by one, but the United States keep their goals-scored tally higher than Ghana (i.e., Team USA lose 1-2; Ghana win 1-0).
  • Team USA progress if Ghana win 1-0, the United States lose 1-0. Both end on goal difference of zero, so goals scored would apply—but again the teams are tied. Team USA progress on account of a better head-to-head result.
  • Team USA go out on goal difference if Ghana win by more than one and the United States lose by one (or more) or if Ghana win by one and Team USA lose by more than one.

Were Portugal to win against Ghana, the same goal-difference situation would arise, but with the Europeans currently on minus-four, they need to pick up an almighty victory over Ghana or else hope Germany put several goals past USA.

Either way, a five-goal swing in goal difference is required along with a Portugal victory and Team USA defeat for that scenario to impact the group.

Of course, should Klinsmann's team show the same tenacity and desire to avoid defeat that they have done so far in the campaign, goal difference and frayed nerves in injury time might not be needed at all, as they seek to reach the latter stages of the finals once more.