SAO PAULO – Winning takes cares of everything but at the World Cup that is no easy task. And for the United States to keep rolling, it might need a bit of outside assistance.
"We will especially keep a close eye on Germany-Ghana because it impacts us," U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski said on Friday. "Not only for the next day but also down the road because we play Germany the following week. We will keep our eye out."
But whom should American supporters root for? The answer is somewhat disappointing for those who like a bit of drama and a cheering interest – a tie.
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World Cup groups are always littered with permutations and variations. It is possible for a team to miss out on reaching the round of 16 after collecting six points, yet in another group a team could qualify with just two.
For the uninitiated, it is puzzling. Heck, it's puzzling for everyone. Even coaches have been known to go into decisive games with a calculator nearby and a sheet listing all the potential combinations of results.
Let's go through every outcome of Germany vs. Ghana with the U.S.'s best interests in mind.
Ghana beats Germany
It's the worst-case scenario but also the least likely. Yes, such an outcome would give the Americans a chance to pull three points clear at the top of the group on Sunday, but it would also set up a scenario where six points might not be enough to guarantee qualification to the knockout stage.
Furthermore, it would leave Germany needing a win of its own going into the last group game against the U.S. in Recife next Thursday. If the Germans put the kind of hurt on the Americans that they are more than capable of, then Jurgen Klinsmann's side could be on the outside looking in no matter how it performs in Manaus.
Germany beats Ghana
It would be infinitely better but not perfect. In that instance, a U.S. triumph over Portugal would clinch a spot in the next round. It would also eliminate both the Portuguese and the Ghanaians.
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But it wouldn't be the best result for the Americans.
Germany ties Ghana
In this scenario, a U.S. win over Portugal would put it top of the group after two games and officially clinch a place in the round of 16. A tie against Portugal would put the Americans on the cusp of sealing qualification, too.
A draw also is most ideal because all of these situations revolve around motivation. If both the U.S. and Germany go into a final game knowing that a tie would qualify both teams, then the chances of that happening drastically increase. It doesn't mean the match is fixed. Rather, it is all about risk versus reward.
Say the USA-Germany game is tied with 10 minutes remaining and all either team needs is a tie. Common sense dictates that a safety-first approach is the right way to go. On the other hand, coming up against a team that desperately needs to win to save itself is a different proposition. That team will throw caution to the wind and risk everything in search of a breakthrough.
Conspiracy theorists would point to the fact that Klinsmann and Germany head coach Joachim Loew are friends and former colleagues with the German national team in 2006. Then there is the murky history of the 1982 World Cup where West Germany and Austria conspired to arrange a specific result to ensure Algeria was eliminated and both countries progressed.
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Forget about a fix if the U.S. and Germany both needed nothing more than a tie. Don't expect to see a whole lot of risk-taking, either. It would be a good spot for the Americans to be in, which is why the schedule of the Group of Death, if not its composition, has been kind.
We've already seen what happens when you play Germany first; Portugal is still carrying the bruises from the 4-0 thumping it received. The Germans might be the best-prepared team in the entire tournament. Getting to play them when they are fat and happy with points in the bag and little to play for – that is what you want.
Depending on the precise scenario, Loew might rest players. He wouldn't want anyone in his starting XI to pick up yellow cards or get hurt going into the knockout rounds.
Of course, for all this arithmetic analysis, the best way to avoid number-crunching and mathematical headaches is represented by a simple maxim borrowed from American sports, one that is a little more difficult to execute than it is to say.
Just win, baby.
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