Just in case its wild first two games of the 2014 World Cup haven’t gotten you excited, here are five reasons why Team USA’s game against Germany (Thursday at 9 a.m. on ESPN) is must-watch television:
1. A chance to witness history. On Sunday, the U.S. was less than 30 seconds away from securing a spot in the Round of 16 in back-to-back World Cups for the first time ever. But thanks to an excruciatingly late goal by Portugal that forced a 2-2 draw, the Americans still have some work to do.
Fortunately, Team USA still controls its own destiny. The easiest path out of its four-team group is a win over Germany, which would also make the USA the group winner and likely set up a Round of 16 matchup against either Russia or Algeria. A draw, however would still allow the Americans to advance (with Germany winning the group), and would probably set up a match against a slightly tougher opponent (Belgium) in the next round.
2. One of the world’s best teams. Only Brazil and Italy have won more World Cups than Germany, which has won three (all as West Germany) since 1990. The Germans advanced to the semifinals in the 2010 World Cup (losing to eventual champion Spain) and have already scored six goals in their first two games this year. (Only the Netherlands and France scored more goals in their first two contests.)
Germany is loaded with talented scorers, including Thomas Müller, who plays for Bayern Munich (the German equivalent of Manchester United), and Miroslav Klose, whose game-tying goal against Ghana on Saturday also tied him for the most all-time goals in World Cup history (15). The American defense, which has already faced a barrage of challenges from Ghana and Portugal, will face its toughest test on Thursday.
3. Collusion? One thing that might put the brakes on Germany’s high-powered offense, according to speculation, is the possibility that the Americans and Germans will come to some sort of pre-match understanding. Since a tie game would ensure that both teams advance to the Round of 16, there is the chance that neither team will be as aggressive as usual.
This scenario may sound farfetched, but it’s not unprecedented. In 1982, West Germany scored an early goal against Austria, at which point both teams were content to play back and settle for a 1-0 West German victory, as the result ensured that both teams advanced out of group. The fact that Team USA’s coach is the German-born Jürgen Klinsmann (who scored for Germany against the USA in the 1998 World Cup) has only lent credence to the possibility. At any rate, the game’s first 15-20 minutes should give us a good idea as to whether any sort of arrangement was discussed.
4. Amazing finishes. Team USA made for some nail-biting TV viewing on Sunday – and that has recently become the norm. Each of America’s last eight World Cup matches have been decided by one goal or less, and two of its last three games have seen a goal scored in stoppage (injury) time in the game’s final minutes.
The USA is unbeaten in its last five World Cup group matches (two wins and three draws). Earning a similar result against Germany won’t be easy, but seeing as how the Americans have had a flair for the dramatic in recent years, there will be at least a couple of twists and turns on Thursday.
5. The other game. At the same time that USA-Germany kicks off on Thursday morning, the other Group G match between Portugal and Ghana will begin on ESPN2. If Germany beats the U.S., the Portugal-Ghana result will determine whether the Americans will advance.
A Portugal-Ghana draw would ensure that Team USA moves on to the Round of 16. After that, the scenarios are complicated (you can review them here ). Long story short: In most scenarios, if the USA loses to Germany, a Portugal win would be more favorable for the U.S. than a Ghana win would be.