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United States Backs Into World Cup Knockout Stage

United States
The United States has advanced to the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup. (Thinkstock)

The man who prevented United States Soccer from advancing to the World Cup Knockout Stage a few days ago is the same man who helped propel the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) to the second round of soccer’s greatest event.

Despite the United States losing 1-0 to Germany in the final game of Group G play on June 26 at Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, a goal late by Ronald gave Portugal a 2-1 victory over Ghana, allowing the USMNT to advance to the Knockout Stage.

Lost the battle, won the war, was the common phrase uttered by commentators and analyst after the match, as the  many soccer observers believed the United States would not advance out of the Group of Death.

It was Ronaldo who assisted on the equalizing goal in the final seconds of the USA-Portugal match last Sunday. Had the United States held on to beat Portugal a few days ago, we would have advanced to the Round of 16 outright. The loss on June 22 meant the United States had to either tie or beat Germany, or hope for a Portugal win or tie, to advance out of the Group of Death.

Ronaldo found the back of the net in the 84th minute to help Portugal defeat Ghana, 2-1, giving the United States the path it needed to move forward despite losing to Germany.

Germany wins Group G outright with 7 points (2-0-1), while the United States finishes in second place with 4 points (1-1-1).

The Germans scored the match’s sole goal, when Thomas Muller found the back of the net in the 55th minute. Germany dominated the match,statistically speaking, outshooting the United States 13 to 4. The Americans only had one shot on goal and controlled possession for only 36 percent.

With the 1-0 loss, the United States had a goal differential of zero (4 goals in favor, 4 goals allowed). The zero-goal differential allowed the United States to finish ahead of Portugal in Group G standings.

It is the second World Cup the United States advanced out of Group Play. The United States played in the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup, but failed to advance any further after a 2-1 loss to Ghana that year.

Looking ahead, the United States will play against the winner of Group H. That winner is likely to be Belgium, who handily defeated the United States, 4-2, in an international friendly in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2013.

“It’s huge,” Jurgen Klinsmann said in a post-game interview on the field right after the match. “Everyone said we have no chance … but we advanced. The energy was great. The commitment was great. This is a huge, huge step.”

Tim Howard said the United States is not satisfied with just advancing out of Group Play and will not settle with simply earning a berth in the Round of 16, which, the goalkeeper said, “shows how far we come.”

Howard made five saves for the United States, which played without one of its star players in Jozy Altidore for most of Group Play.

Altidore could be available to play in the Round of 16 match, which is set for Tuesday, July 1.

The best the United States has ever done in a World Cup was a quarterfinal finish, which was most recently accomplished in 2002. A win on Tuesday would give the United States its second quarterfinal berth in four World Cup appearances.

In 2002, the United States lost to Germany in the quarterfinal. Coincidentally, the Germans won that match 1-0, as well.

Unlike Group Play, there are no ties in the Knockout Phase.

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