World Cup 2014

World Cup: What should USMNT fans take away from Germany-Ghana draw? | Armchair Analyst

After one of the Ghana goals – I don't remember which one, because I was too busy jumping up and down and letting out various sorts of high-pitched warcries – ESPN announcer Jon Champion called this World Cup "the gift that keeps on giving." He couldn't have been more correct.

This video from New York Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam perfectly sums it up:

Here's what made that game, a 2-2 draw between the two Group G opponents, so captivating: US fans had no idea who to cheer for, or how hard.

I mean, we all want the underdog to win, right? That's why I was screaming like a madman when Asamoah Gyan smashed it past Manuel Neuer.

But that's the impulse of the heart. The impulse of the head is to root for the best result for us. And – no doubt about it – a convincing Germany win would have been best for the US. Three points for them would've meant they come into the final group game playing for nothing more than pride, and maybe a No. 1 seed.

One point? It means that they still have everything to play for. No matter what happens in the US showdown with Portugal on Sunday (6 pm ET; ESPN), the Germans will not head into the final game with advancement to the knockout round assured.

Nothing comes easy in the World Cup. And that really is a gift:


1. What a pick by Joachim Löw

The German manager, who's been at the helm there since Jurgen Klinsmann stepped down following the 2006 tournament, is often given the lion's share of credit for the tactics that made Germany successful first under Klinsmann, and then in the tournaments beyond which have seen a series of stylish, creative runs to the semifinals. They are basically the antithesis of the great 1980s German teams, which pounded you relentlessly with long balls, crosses and set pieces.

Low's team wasn't as convincing today, however, and even in a first half spent mostly on the front foot, there were plenty of signifiers that Ghana had a hold of the game on some level. In large part, it was because they were able to disrupt the German 4-3-3 and track runners from between the lines.

So Löw dug deep, mined for gold, and made the right pick.

Sorry, wrong embed. Mr. Booger-Eater chose Miroslav Klose from his subs bench to save the day when Ghana went up 2-1, and that's precisely what Klose did. The 36-year-old target man showed that, as much as drifting off the backline and away from defenders is crucial in the modern game, the ability to go at them and occupy them will never go out of style.

Forget the goal, which tied Ronaldo for the all-time World Cup lead. The real impact Klose had was in the way he opened up the game for Germany by keeping the Ghanaian defense out of lanes, and thus giving the likes of Mario Götze and Mesut Özil more room in which to operate.

Klose is old, and probably won't go from the start against the US on Thursday. But if Germany need a goal, or a tactical change in the second half, Löw knows exactly which pick to make (sorry).

Ok, I said forget the goal. But let's remember it again:


2. Turnovers. Transition. Set pieces.

There are three areas in which the US has to be excellent to beat Germany next week. And Ghana, to their credit, was very good in two out of the three – much better than Portugal were in Germany's first group stage game.

First, they both limited their own turnovers and punished Germany's. They didn't give up the kinds of easy looks – or easy strings of possession in attacking areas – that most thought the Germans would be able to create with relative ease.

Yes, there were times in the first half when Ghana's backline stepped a bit too high, and had to scramble. But there were some smart adjustments made on the sideline, and that tightening ended up producing a second 45 that is now fairly convincingly the best half of soccer we've seen at the World Cup.

Limiting turnovers means limiting transition opportunities. On the flip side, you have to take advantage of the turnovers you create yourself, and move forward ruthlessly:

As soon as Sulley Muntari picked off that lazy pass, he pressed forward with the third-line pass to split the German defenders. Gyan took his touch positive. And he didn't dawdle – he shot.

Limit the recovery time for good teams. When the door opens a crack, you've got to bust through.

The third area is the one in which Ghana did not do so well: set pieces. Even when Germany are bad, they're good on set pieces – a truth that becomes magnified once Klose is on the field.

Klose's goal was the 13th one-touch finish of his 15 World Cup tallies. He can not be allowed to roam – at all – because he doesn't need more than a blink to find the net.


3. The bizarre use of German fullbacks

Löw, as I said, made his name as something of a tactical guru. He's been at the vanguard of a lot of fun stuff – strikerless formations, d-mid conversions, and overlappers who go for 90 minutes.

And now he's playing, of all things, static fullbacks. It looks like a classic, bad-old-days back four:

You can see just how little impact each side had pushing into the attack. And even when Löw took off Jerome Boateng at halftime, he went ultra-conservative with the replacement, bringing Shkodran Mustafi – another central defender. I can't say that I understand it.

Here's what those German fullbacks did in terms of Opta events:

Only seven events in the final third between the three of them across 90 minutes.

This isn't the same German team it was in 2010, or even in the 2012 Euros. The free-flowing, attacking football that redefined a generation is constrained mostly to the front six now, with a certain rigidity and foundational dourness on display at the back.

Of course, maybe that's what they need to get over the hump and win their first major tournament since 1996. This is Germany, after all – never, ever think you've got them beat. Even the gift that keeps on giving will have to run out of surprises at some point.