SAO PAULO — It won't be easy, far from it, but the United States could clinch a berth in the 2014 World Cup round of 16 by beating Portugal on Sunday.
Saturday's 2-2 draw between Germany and Ghana put the U.S. in position to assure its advancement out of the group by defeating the Portuguese and reigning world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo.
It took 51 illuminating minutes for Germany to deliver an end product worthy of the brilliant buildup play it had been misspending in its World Cup Group G game against Ghana. When midfielder Mario Gotze headed a beautiful chip from Thomas Muller off his own knee and into the goal, the best-case scenario to assist the U.S. with advancement was for the Germans to keep up the attack and bury Ghana on goal differential in the same way they had Portugal earlier in the week.
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It didn't turn out that way.
If you believe the U.S. will defeat Portugal, however, this result worked fine for you.
With three points as the result of its victory over Ghana, the U.S. stands second in the so-called "Group of Death"; Germany has four points, Ghana one and Portugal zero. A victory Sunday would give the U.S. six points, a figure Ghana and Portugal then would be unable to match.
Sunday's kickoff is 6 p.m. ET.
At a news conference in Manaus, Portugal coach Paulo Bento promised his team would take an attacking approach to the U.S. game because his team will "either win or start packing their bags to go home." Technically, he probably is correct because the team will start the day with a minus-4 goal differential, but mathematically the Portuguese would remain alive with a draw.
The Americans did not play a beautiful game against Ghana in getting its opening win, but that result started to take on prestige as Germany, ranked No. 3 in the world, labored through 90 minutes against the same opponent Saturday.
The Germany lead against Ghana didn't even last five minutes, with poor defending in the box and a perfect cross from Harrison Afful leading to a headed goal by Andre Ayew, who also scored in Monday's 2-1 U.S. victory.
Germany even fell behind for a bit on a searing goal by forward Asamoah Gyan, but Miroslav Klose tied the game — and Ronaldo's World Cup scoring record — when he slid into the far post and flicked in a curling corner from Toni Kroos.
The Germans had many opportunities to break the deadlock, including one in stoppage time that could have given Klose sole possession of the World Cup scoring record. But he fired several feet wide of the near post as the Ghana defense closed.
The final Germany chance possibly cost the team. Muller tried to head in a free kick from just outside the box and instead struck his head on the shoulder of Ghana defender John Boye, who appeared to feel the pain of the collision, as well.
Muller remained on the field for a while after the final whistle. At the very least, he had a nasty cut on his right temple.