BRING ON THE GERMANS: U.S. faces group leaders with qualification for next round still on the line
RECIFE, Brazil -- When Jermaine Jones stands for the national anthems of his countries Thursday night, he will soak in the moment.
Jones, like four American teammates and his coach, will be familiar with both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the "Deutschlandlied" before the United States’ World Cup game against Germany.
After playing three games in 2008 for the nation in which he grew up, Jones switched allegiance to the U.S. two years later.
"When I hear the anthem from the United States, I will close my eyes and let everything go through," the tenacious midfielder said.
And then comes the big game.
Four years of work by the U.S.come down to 90 or so minutes in the afternoon heat and possibly rain at Arena Pernambuco on the outskirts of a sprawling beach city known as the Brazilian Venice. Having squandered the chance to clinch advancement earlier this week against Portugal by allowing a stoppage-time goal in a 2-2 draw, the Americans might need at least a tie against the three-time champions to reach the knockout stage of consecutive World Cup for the first time.
The story lines are gripping:
--U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing the nation he helped win the 1990 World Cup title and coached to the 2006 semifinals.
--Germany coach Joachim Loew managing against Klinsmann, his former boss.
--Five German-American players with U.S. servicemen fathers and German mothers going up against a German squad filled with familiar faces from the Bundesliga.
--Fear by some the U.S. and Germany might collude on a draw, which would advance both nations while eliminating Portugal and Ghana. Both sides insist that won’t happen.
--Thousands of American fans with red, white and blue gear making the trek to the Southern Hemisphere to cheer in person and millions back home tuning into games at record levels.
"The country is in a soccer fever and they’re glued to the TVs when we play," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said Wednesday.
The Germans beat Portugal 4-0 and tied Ghana 2-2, leaving them with four points and a plus-four goal difference. The Americans, who defeated Ghana 2-1, have four points and a plus-one goal difference.
Ghana and Portugal, with one point each, play simultaneously in Brasilia, knowing a tie in either game would eliminate both of them. U.S. Soccer Federation officials will have a system to relay the score of the other match to the bench.
"To be able to keep that level of interest for another four, five, six and hopefully more days would be great for the sport," USSF President Sunil Gulati said. "I think for the first time in our history -- recent history, I’m not going to talk about 1950 or before -- our players believe they’re capable of beating anyone."
He rejects the notion the dual nationals are any less American than those who came up through the U.S. youth system.
When the U.S. and Germany met for the first time in the group stage of the 1998 Cup, Klinsmann scored the second goal in a 2-0 win. The teams played four years later in the quarterfinals, when Michael Ballack’s 39th-minute goal gave the Germans a 1-0 victory. The Americans still complain Scottish referee Hugh Dallas declined to call a penalty kick when Gregg Berhalter’s 49th-minute shot hit the left arm of defender Torsten Frings at the goal line.
While the Germans have four off days between matches, the U.S. has only three. And teams are 0-4 after games in the steamy Amazon rainforest capital of Manaus, where the Americans played Sunday night.
"It’s the biggest game of all of our lives," Beckerman said. "Any fatigue in our legs will be erased. We’ve got to give it everything we’ve got and more."
There is an outside chance the U.S. and Portugal could tie for second with four points and be even on all tiebreakers -- for instance, if the Americans lose 3-0 and the Portuguese win 2-0. In that case, a drawing of lots would decide which team advances.
The teams that move on will have second-round matchups with Belgium, Russia, South Korea or Algeria. Gulati hopes for more, much more, that will help boost the growing American fan base.
"It’s pretty easy to get emotional about," he said, "wanting to see this day happen. It’s not The Day. That day is still to come. And that day has got a trophy involved."
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