2010 FIFA World Cup: How Team USA Can Clinch a Semifinal Berth

Jonathan Woo@woo_jonathanwooCorrespondent IJune 8, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 29 : Landon Donovan #10 of the United States handles the ball during a pre-World Cup warm-up match against Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field on May 29, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Imagine a World Cup scenario where the American selection outlasts great football powers like England and Italy, France and Portugal, or perhaps mighty offensive giant Argentina. Into what sort of frenzy and shock would that put the fans watching the upcoming tournament?

Not to be overly far-fetched, but with a little bit of unexpected help, the tournament could unfold into a less threatening road for last year’s Confederations Cup runner-up—unfurling a possible semifinal appearance for the U.S. national team.

But before the enraged fans of those aforementioned selections begin hurling rocks through my windows, hear me out.

A few guided bumps—and unexpected results—must jumble some teams around before the knockout rounds begin. But it will all have to begin with great form and performance from the American side in Group C.

After all, how often does the World Cup truly develop the way most expect?

Bump Number 1 : The United States unexpectedly manages a win against England on Saturday .

Hold the phones. The United States, do what? That’s right, before any of this football blasphemy can even begin to come into fruition, the Americans must fly out of the gates on the right foot. In this case, a victory over the English could go a long way towards the Yanks making an unprecedented appearance deep into World Cup.

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A draw with England would work as well, but ultimately what the U.S. team needs is to outplace England in Group C—meaning they will need to get first place—to pull less threatening matchups in the Round of 16 and possibly the Quarterfinals.

In the ambitious case that the Americans win on Saturday, subsequent victories over Slovenia and Algeria would put them in the driver’s seat. A draw with the English means the U.S. will need larger margins of victory over its final two group opponents and advance on goal differential.

Bump Number 2: A meltdown by England leads to a draw or loss to either Slovenia or Algeria .

Another unexpected event would severely threaten England’s chances of advancing and seriously improve the Americans opportunity to win the group, but this bump is even less likely than the first.

But with Bob Bradley’s team finishing first in its group, it would draw the second place finisher in Group D (Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana). The Germans are the heads-on favorite to win that group, meaning a likely scenario that Ghana—who is without star midfielder Michael Essien—will battle with Australia for a ticket into the knockout rounds.

[Note 1: Should the U.S. finish second in its group, which is a higher probability, the Americans would draw the first place finisher from Group D—likely Germany, a much tougher assignment.]

Ghana is beatable, but will be a stiff test. We saw the U.S. triumph convincingly 3-1 in its final warm-up with the Aussies, so the writing may already be on the wall for that potential match-up.

Assuming the U.S. is victorious over its Round of 16 opponent, its Quarterfinal opponent would be the victor between Group A’s top team and Group B’s second. Group A contains South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay and France; Group B holds Argentina, Nigeria, Korea Republic and Greece.

The only monster of those eight teams appears to be Argentina, which is expected to place first anyway and could only match-up with the U.S. in the finals (should the Americans take first in their group).

At first glance, Group A’s top finisher looks to be a toss-up between America’s southern rival, Mexico, and France—no towering giants by any means, but no slouches either. Winnable, but again, another demanding game. Group B’s second place team is another toss-up, but after Argentina, the level of talent drops considerably.

[Note 2: Again, should the U.S. finish second and face Germany in the Round of 16—and manage to win—its next opponent would be the winner of Group B’s first team—Argentina—and Group A’s second team. As a U.S. supporter, wouldn’t you much rather face one of Mexico, France, Nigeria, Korea Republic or Greece than a very talented Argentinean side?]

Now if all things are going as unexpectedly as this evil plot suggests, team America could be in the Quarterfinals, likely matching up against Mexico/France or Nigeria/Korea Republic/Greece, by going through Australia/Ghana in the Round of 16.

A win at this stage would put the Americans into the Semifinals. This road to the semis seems more likeable and feasible than battling a tough German team and possibly an even more robust Argentinean selection.

Coming back down to Earth, should all of this develop quite unnaturally, the U.S. would then likely match with one the following to clinch a finals berth: Netherlands, Brazil/Portugal (barring the absolute unforeseen that Spain finishes second in its group).

On the other hand, with a second place group finish and gargantuan triumphs over world powers Germany and Argentina, the Americans would draw a semifinal with Italy/Cameroon, Spain/Brazil/Portugal.

Hey, it all isn’t too likely, but it’s not incredibly greedy, either. Ultimately, the U.S. squad can make its own luck by achieving a positive result—in other words, anything except a loss—against England.

Should that happen, well, I won’t be that prophetic.