Jun 26, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Phew. We got there in the end.
The U.S. may have lost 1-0 to Germany in Recife on Thursday, but the objective of making it out of Group G was achieved.
So many had feared the “Group of Death” would haunt the U.S. and halt Jurgen Klinsmann’s side at the first hurdle of their 2014 World Cup adventure. How wrong they were as the USA are heading to the last 16.
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We learned plenty about the U.S. so far during this WC campaign, here are three things we learned from the narrow defeat to Germany.
Engine room excellence
Boy, oh boy, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are having themselves one heck of a tournament. Beckerman was clean and tidy in possession, clogged up the space in front of the back four superbly and when he had to be dirty and give away fouls he used all of his experience to do it. Jones was playing slightly further forward than usual but was pinching tight alongside Bradley to stop the nation where he was born. The German-American has been the USA’s standout player of the tournament so far. Not just for his stunning goal against Portugal but his work rate, dedication to the cause and leadership skills. The fact that many experts were writing off Jones before the tournament began makes it even better. Alongside Beckerman and Jones, Michael Bradley had his best game of the tournament so far and although he gave the ball away cheaply here and there, the three wheels in the USA’s central cog intertwined majestically to minimize the impact of German’s usually imperious midfield machine. The U.S. lost the game, but I would argue that they won the midfield battle. To stop Germany’s flair players from creating numerous chances is an achievement that shouldn’t be overlooked.
It wasn’t just in the middle of the pitch that the USA’s gritty nature shone through. At the back Omar Gonzalez stepped in and does what he does best: gets his head on things and uses his size to put off opponents. Matt Besler was sliding into challenges and both full back, Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley, kept going for the full 90. In Beasley’s case, having that much energy after playing two full games at his age was remarkable. Up top, Clint Dempsey put in another shift and even a whack on his already broken nose from Benedikt Howedes couldn’t halt the Texan from leading the line powerfully. We all know how the U.S. is viewed around the world, the nation that nerves gives up and will succeed against all the odds. That aura of invincibility is starting to emanate from the American players, as they proved, once again, that they’re made of tough stuff.
Final third breakdown
If defensively the U.S. looked sound against a German team coasting in second and third gear for most of the game, offensively it wasn’t a bed of roses. After weathering the early storm the U.S. actually nipped the ball back in some great positions on the halfway line but then didn’t do much with it. Apart from Graham Zusi cutting inside from the left in the 21st minute and curling a shot just over the bar, the USA failed to create any real clear cut opportunities until the dying stages when Alejandro Bedoya‘s shot was blocked superbly by Phillip Lahm. That has to be a worry for Klinsmann, as he’s still missing his main striker Jozy Altidore and when you pick the bones out of the USA’s fourth goals so far, two were from set pieces (John Brook’s header and a shot from Jones after a corner was cleared) and two were from Dempsey’s opportunism. If the USA is going to unlock a stubborn Belgian defense, which has given up just one goal thus far and is marshaled by Vincent Kompany, they’ll have to do better to create chances in the final third. If you don’t create chances, it will be hard to advance past the last 16.
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