For the United States, it’s bring on Belgium. A 1-0 loss to Germany in the final game of the World Cup's group stage might not have been the exclamation mark American fans were hoping for, but it was good enough to secure passage to the tournament’s knockout stage.
A second-place finish in the 2014 World Cup’s Group of Death has to be considered progress. The U.S. was second only to Germany, while Ghana and Portugal (with the world's best player Cristiano Ronaldo) are heading home. Belgium topped Group H and is the next assignment for the United States on Tuesday.
There was brief period of tension in the second half when Ghana tied Portugal 1-1. A Ghana victory and a demonstrative victory by Germany could have spelled the end for the United States. Instead, Portugal finished the job with a 2-1 victory and the U.S., while not aesthetically pleasing to watch, effectively contained Germany.
The day was about safety first for the United States. Germany had a 63 to 37 percent advantage in possession and outshot the U.S. 13 to 4. Germany had nine shots on goal to the United States' one. In fact, the best American attacks did not happen until two counterattacks in the game’s last few minutes.
1. Mission accomplished. Back in December when the World Cup groupings were announced and the United States was placed in the Group of Death, few predicted success in Brazil. There was also controversy before reaching Brazil when Landon Donovan was left off the squad. Doubts about Donovan’s exclusion surfaced early in the first match against Ghana when Jozy Altidore was lost to a hamstring injury. Instead of falling apart, this team has showed maturity and a collective spirit. As the man in charge, Juergen Klinsmann has managed the roster well and so far made all the right decisions.
2. Fear the turtle. Graham Zusi was effective in the first two games of the World Cup and another former Maryland Terrapin has made a difference: Defender Omar Gonzalez might have had his best game as a member of the USMNT and showed why he is the highest-paid defender in Major League Soccer. Gonzalez controlled the center of defense and was a big reason why the game was still scoreless at halftime. In the 47th minute, Gonzalez was able to jostle Mesut Ozil just enough to prevent him from getting on to the end of a cross. Ozil headed the ball over the crossbar.
3. The best is yet to come from Michael Bradley -- at least we hope. Bradley plays a very influential role for the U.S and he has not been at his best in Brazil. Against Portugal Bradley was better than he was against Ghana, but never really had an impact against Germany. Bradley is essential for the U.S. to keep possession and create a rhythm. There was a sign of frustration by Bradley when he committed a needless foul on Phillip Lahm. The foul led to a sequence that started with a free kick, was followed by a corner kick and ended with a Thomas Mueller goal.