RECIFE, Brazil – The United States lost 1-0 to Germany but still won on Thursday by scraping through to the knockout stage of the World Cup after surviving a nervous final afternoon of Group G action.
Thomas Mueller’s 55th-minute goal was enough to give Germany victory and hand it first place in the Group of Death, with the Americans also progressing in second place with four points.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s side was elated to be through to the round of 16 for the second straight World Cup but had to survive some nervous moments in Recife.
"It's a huge achievement by our team to come through the group and qualify for the knockout stage. We knew it was going to be a very tricky game," Klinsmann said. "We knew we were in a situation where a tie was enough and it was not so easy to handle mentally. We kind of gave them too much respect for the first 20-25 minutes."
Given the result against Germany, the U.S. would have been eliminated if Ghana had managed to beat Portugal in a match taking place simultaneously in Brasilia. After equalizing in the second half, Ghana eventually slipped to a 2-1 defeat thanks to an 80th minute winner from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Germany coach Joachim Loew lauded Team USA, which wasn't expected to get past the Group of Death.
"That was a tough group," Loew said. "Everyone thought the Americans would be on the outside and that Portugal would make it. ... I am happy for the U.S. [Reaching the round of 16] means they have the qualities – they can fight and they can run and they are really tough on the opponent. They have players who have improved technically.
"If you beat Ghana and draw with Portugal, you deserve to reach the round of 16."
Klinsmann’s team was outplayed by Germany and struggled to adapt to heavy conditions caused by a torrential downpour in the lead-up to the game.
Mueller scored after a corner by Mesut Ozil. U.S. goalie Tim Howard deflected a header by Per Mertesacker but Mueller was right there for the rebound.
"I saw the ball was ricocheting toward me and the goalkeeper," Mueller said. "I don't know the distance – maybe 16 meters – and I just focused on the ball and the far post and hit the ball the way I thought I would hit it. And that was it."
The goal was Mueller's fourth of the tournament.
"We'll look at the video and see what went wrong, but if you give him one chance or give him a clear picture on goal, he will take advantage of it," Klinsmann said. "Thomas Mueller doesn't need more than one chance to score."
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Alejandro Bedoya and Clint Dempsey both had a clear chances to equalize for the U.S. deep into injury time but were unable to convert, with Bedoya's low strike blocked by Philipp Lahm and Dempsey aiming his close range header over the bar.
The U.S. will now meet the winner of Group H, either Belgium or Algeria, at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador on Tuesday.
"Obviously Belgium and Algeria are very different teams. Belgium we are more familiar with. We played two friendlies against them [both losses]," Klinsmann said. "Algeria is a completely different style. But whoever it is we will be prepared."