Why you should be up and down like a crazy man after the US-Ghana match

A friend of mine was complaining recently about the lack of decorum that US fans were showing after defeating Ghana on June 17.  His reasoning, logical as always, was “Hey, it’s a first round game and it isn’t as if we were playing anything more than a 3rd tier team.”  My esteemed colleague has managed to get the facts right and the argument wrong.  This was always so much more than just the first game of the first round.  This game was always going to determine the US team’s chances of success.

Standings After Round 1
Team Wins Losses Ties Points Goal Differential
Germany 1 0 0 3 4
USA 1 0 0 3 1
Ghana 0 1 0 0 -1
Portugal 0 1 0 0 -4

The excitement is over the possibilities of what this sets up.  See the chart below.  This chart assumes that we manage to squeeze a tie out of Portugal – not an easy task but not unthinkable when Pepe is suspended, Coentrao and Almeida are out via injury, and Ronaldo is still not 100%.  It also assumes that Germany beats Ghana 2-nil.  Although any team can pull off an upset, winning against Germany’s frontl ine will be exceptionally tough for all comers.

Projected Standings After Round 2
Team Wins Losses Ties Points Goal Differential
Germany 2 0 0 6 6
USA 1 0 1 4 1
Portugal 0 1 1 1 -4
Ghana 0 1 0 0 -3

Because of their stellarly poor performance against Germany, Portugal carries a HUGELY negative goal differential going into game 3.  Let’s assume that Portugal beats Ghana 2-nil, just as Germany does.  That means that Germany – a team that will have already qualified for the second round – will have to beat the US by at least 3 goals for Portugal to advance.  That is not out of the realm of the possible, especially if Germany were to play all its starters.  This is where probable kicks in.  The tradition for the 3rd game for teams that have already qualified is to rest their stars and to play it easy, settle for a draw or a light win.  Both the US and Germany will know this going in.  Unless they pull a South Korea on us (note: the reason for the great US run of 2002 is because South Korea decided not to stick to the accepted, traditional script where a draw would allow both Korea and Portugal to advance.  Instead, they won and the US advanced over Portugal), we go in to the game with a solid chance to advance.

There is still a lot of work to do – such as at least drawing Portugal – but winning against Ghana was the key to the entire US World Cup.  Win or go home before the groups even started.

And that, my friend, is why knowledgeable fans last night were screaming like we had won the World Cup.

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