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By Philip O'Connor
RECIFE, Brazil, June 26 (Reuters) - Thomas Mueller's netted his fourth goal in three World Cup games in a 1-0 win over the USA to give Germany top spot in Group G and send them into knockout stages full of confidence following a dominant display at the Pernambuco arena in Recife.
Deployed at centre forward by Germany coach Joachim Loew, Mueller was a constant thorn in the side of the Americans with his clever running and incisive passing, before popping up on the edge of the area just before the hour mark to decide the game.
Mueller's goal means Germany top the group and will face the runner-up in Group H while the United States finish second and will face Group H's winner. Portugal, who beat Ghana 2-1, are eliminated along with the Africans.
The game in the north-eastern city of Recife had been threatened by a torrential downpour on Thursday morning, and outside the arena the city's street sellers did a roaring trade in rain ponchos as drenched fans sought a little protection from the incessant rain.
But the heavy rain that hampered the preparations of fans and players alike, flooding city streets and causing traffic chaos on routes leading to the ground, eased to a drizzle as kickoff approached.
The Germans seemed oblivious to both the conditions and the fact that a scoreless draw would be enough for them to progress as group winners, attacking from the first whistle, dominating possession and sweeping dangerous passes in behind U.S. left back DaMarcus Beasley.
With the Americans content for the most part to concede possession, the quick ball movement of the Germans allowed them space to probe patiently in front of the massed U.S. ranks.
Klinsmann's side put in a blue-collar performance, hustling and harrying without the ball and then breaking forward quickly to attack on the counter when they did win possession, but ultimately they lacked the pace and guile to unduly trouble Manuel Neuer in the German goal.
Germany's breakthrough came after 55 minutes when Tim Howard parried out a Per Mertesacker header, but Mueller collected the loose ball on the edge of the area and superbly side-footed into the bottom corner.
"Thomas is a player that doesn't need two chances. If he gets one he puts it in the net," U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann told a media conference after the game.
"He is fine with one, he puts it in the net."
Germany coach Joachim Loew was also full of praise for man of the match Mueller in his post-game comments.
"He is very difficult for any opponent to figure out. It's difficult to stand up to him, he's very smart and always finds a way into he area. You get them impression it's so easy for him," Loew said.
It was a different story for the Americans, who toiled manfully but created little. They barely registered an effort on goal but still came agonisingly close to stealing a draw at the death when Clint Dempsey headed over from close range.
Only 24, Mueller now has eight goals from his two World Cups and if team mate Miroslav Klose, who has 15 to his name, does become the tournament's all-time top scorer in Brazil, his reign may well be short-lived.
"I just hope we can go as far as possible, and perhaps achieve our ultimate goal," a beaming Mueller told reporters.
The U.S. were pleased to progress to the knockout stage from a tough group with both Germany and Portugal ranked by FIFA among the top four teams in the world.
"Everyone said we had no chance, but we took the chance and we move on and now we really want to prove a point," Klinsmann said.
"The commitment was great, I wish we had more possession and created more chances but maybe we are saving that for the next one.
"It is huge, huge step and now we can't wait for the round of 16." (Editing by Nigel Hunt)