The Group of Death?
Only a flesh wound, as it turned out.
They weathered the German passing attack. They survived the rain. They outlasted the math.
On a day when it didn’t win, the U.S. World Cup team nevertheless emerged victorious Thursday in Brazil.
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In Hollywood, they would have had Jozy Altidore limping off the bench to miraculously score the winning goal in the 95th minute. But this was the final day of group play at the World Cup, and the stadium had turned into a rain forest, and clearly Germany coach Joachim Loew hadn’t gotten the memo (wink, wink) about any “gentlemen’s agreement.”
No, the Americans took the Germans’ best shot. They got the whole bratwurst — the pinpoint passing, the infinite patience, the precision set pieces and the unmatched roster depth.
Twelve years ago, we sat in a World Cup stadium in Ulsan, South Korea, and watched a German team eliminate the United States by the same 1-0 score, and — trust me — it wasn’t even remotely that close.
By contrast, Thursday’s group showdown was a test of wills. It can’t be ignored that coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team has been playing without the injured Altidore, arguably its third-best player. An extra attacking option, indeed, would have helped.
But despite Germany being able to dominate the possession time, goalkeeper Tim Howard and the U.S. defenders denied chance after chance.
It made for grand theater. World Cup theater. And, as much as anything, it’s why soccer — soccer like this, played at its highest level — makes more and more of you want to watch.
Overnight U.S. TV ratings for Thursday’s Germany-USA game are probably going to be record-setting for the sport. Last Sunday’s USA-Portugal match attracted 25 million viewers, and this one had an exponentially greater buildup.
The storylines were studded with waving flags and drumbeats. The patriotism thing. Plus, the fact that on soccer’s world stage, our national team is still just part of the chorus.
Several online sites compiled a chart of each World Cup team’s relative worth, using their 23 players’ real-team market and transfer values. In the Washington Post list, Spain had the World Cup final’s most valuable team at $930.1 million.
Germany is next at $786.6 million, followed by Brazil ($699.1 million). Belgium, the U.S. team’s next opponent, is sixth with a combined value of $520.4 million.
And the U.S. team? With combined values on the global soccer market of $86.4 million, the Americans are seventh from the bottom.
The Belgians have 11 players who play in the English Premier League, most of all the World Cup teams.
A victory Thursday, frankly, wouldn’t have been “Miracle on Ice” big, but it would have been inside the blue line. And beating Belgium next week in the round of 16 would, likewise, be viewed as a stunning upset.
As Klinsmann said before the Germany game, as rain showered down around him, “We’ll make the best of it.”
Say this for Klinsmann’s bunch: They are well-coached. Mature, beyond any previous U.S. team. They survived probably the tournament’s most difficult test — the so-called Group of Death. And goalkeeper Howard has been sensational.
But in the knockout rounds, a draw won’t suffice. Clint Dempsey and somebody, anybody, is going to have to figure out a way to score.
Make no mistake — people will be watching.