The Group of Death, should the United States survive it today, has its benefit. The U.S. won’t see a more complete team than Germany – which, for competition’s sake, is an important bit of confidence in the knockout rounds – and if the U.S. takes the second spot in Group G, it has its easiest road to the semifinal a team could ask for.
In fact, it’s so much easier that American fans should be rooting for a draw today.
Should the Yanks tie Germany, they likely would draw Belgium in the round of 16. The Belgians probably have the best team they have had, but they’re not particularly deep.
As far as European Pot A teams go, they’re on the weak side.
Belgium beat the U.S. in a friendly last year, but the Yanks have the capability to win a knockout game against Belgium.
A quarterfinals matchup with Argentina (or maybe Switzerland) would be next, and neither country has impressed so far. Argentina, in particular, had the least-convincing nine-point group stage effort of all time, playing one decent half against Bosnia and Herzegovina and earning two lackluster wins against the two worst teams in Brazil, Iran and Nigeria.
Argentina is no doubt talented, and Lionel Messi poses his usual problems, but it isn’t scaring people like it was before the tournament.
Surprise group-stage results have weakened an entire quarter of the bracket considerably. Instead of England, Italy or Uruguay, Costa Rica took that spot.
Instead of a dangerous Ivory Coast attack, a pedestrian Greece team still is playing. It’s like an entire region at the NCAA Tournament filled with No. 7 seeds, with Holland being the exception. One has to think the Dutch are the overwhelming favorite to reach a second straight final.
On the other side of the bracket – where the U.S. would be if it beats Germany and wins Group G – the Americans could have to go through Russia, France and Brazil to make the final. Any right-thinking U.S. fan would rather take his or her chances with the other path.
So, if you’re an American soccer fan, gladly lose the argument for today and hope the game is as boring as humanly possible. Hope for goalless purgatory. Hope Clint Dempsey and Miroslav Klose spend 90 minutes passing the ball back and forth. Hope Jurgen Klinsmann nods off because he’s so bored.
Not only would it guarantee a spot in the next round, it would guarantee the right spot.
If the United States is going to make its first-ever semifinals appearance this year, it starts with something less than three points today.
For The Novice: Today is the day when goal differential (goals for minus goal against) really matters. The United States has four points; The winner of Ghana and Portugal, who play today, also will have four. Portugal, however, has a bad goal differential because it lost, 4-0, to Germany in the first game. If the U.S. loses to Germany, 2-0, Portugal would have to win by three to take the second spot. It’s not so hard for Ghana. If the U.S. were to lose, 2-0, to Germany, Ghana only would need to win to advance. Hope Portugal earns a result.