RECIFE, Brazil – During his previous life as one of the greatest German strikers in the annals of that country’s history, Jurgen Klinsmann was known for a number of signature moments.
Of course, he scored plenty of goals throughout Europe, but perhaps just as many people remember a trademark belly-flop celebration that came after his biggest ones. If the soccer field had a home plate, Klinsmann would swoop in safe by a mile, his arms extended in a full-blown swan dive with and a mop of blonde hair flapping in the breeze.
The conditions were perfect for another such flop at Arena Pernambuco on Thursday. Steady rain throughout the day saturated the field here for the United States’ Group G finale against Germany, a soggy game that was supposed to decide the US’ fate in Brazil but ultimately didn’t, a World Cup curiosity Americans must adore now that they’ve white-knuckled their way into another week.
“It would have been no problem, I was wet already,” Klinsmann quipped. “But it would have been difficult after a defeat.”
Yes, the Americans lost their final group-stage game against Germany, 1-0. Both Klinsmann and the players admitted they gave too much respect to their opponents, and the US were subsequently outplayed for large swaths of the match. The US rarely threatened to score, resigned to rope-a-dope against the Germans and hope a bounce might go their way or a set-piece goal might even the tables against the better technical team.
But this is the World Cup. Emotions are sometimes tougher to figure out here than they are in the real world.
Where else would the team feel sullen and dumbstruck after their best performance by a mile in a 2-2 draw against Portugal on Sunday night in Manaus? And who said it’s cool to hug each other and celebrate with your fans after you were just picked apart by Germany?
That’s five days of soccer in Brazil. Wet and wild.
“The last game’s draw felt like a loss,” said defender Omar Gonzalez, “and today’s loss felt like a win. It’s pretty weird.”
Added defender Matt Besler: “I bet that only happens in the World Cup, right?”
The US are through to the knockout round for the second straight time – that’s worth celebrating. The cathartic win over Ghana in the opener paired with a solid performance against Portugal gave them a leg to stand on, but they’re moving on in part because a series of events that were completely out of their control.
Most of those events revolved around Portugal, who upended Ghana 2-1 in Brasilia to end the Black Stars’ very real hopes of once again playing the villain to Captain America. That win and Portugal’s 4-0 collapse against Germany in the group’s opening match on June 16 were enough to leave the Americans standing alone in the all-important second slot based on goal differential, another razor-thin escape not unlike the US’ bid in 2002.
The Americans advanced ahead of Portugal that year, too, before eventually racing to the quarterfinals, something that’s certainly not out of the question now. The US hit their share of potholes in the group stage – their team bus even drove through flash floods just to get to the stadium on Thursday – but their ride is still very much intact heading to Salvador, where they’ll meet Belgium on July 1 (4 pm ET, ESPN).
“We said from Day 1, we’ve got to beat Ghana and then we get a point somewhere …” USSF president Sunil Gulati told reporters on Thursday. “If you were looking at how this would play out you’d say, ‘Beat Ghana, draw with Portugal and play like heck against Germany.’ They’re a very, very good team and they were better than us today, but we did what we needed to do.
“It is a little bit of an odd feeling because you lost the last game,” he added, “but we’re dancing.”
Despite the loss, the Americans survived this game without taking too many lumps. Gonzalez strode back into the starting lineup for center back Geoff Cameron with ease, midfielder Kyle Beckerman proved his worth for the third straight game and, unlike the game against Ghana that leveled strikers Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore and hobbled Besler, all players left this one largely unscathed.
Jermaine Jones said he thought he suffered a broken nose on a scary collision with winger Alejandro Bedoya in the second half, but the black eyes that stained the faces of Dempsey and defender Fabian Johnson are beginning to fade. Altidore may return for the knockout game. No players are suspended with yellow-card accumulation.
All of that is something to celebrate, but don’t expect Klinsmann to do it soon. Instead of his signature flop, he just shook hands with his players Thursday and smiled after the Portugal score appeared on the stadium screens, then he disappeared into the tunnel.
“Now we can put this behind us,” Klinsmann said. “And once the group is done, a whole different tournament actually starts."