U.S. Needs To Win Or Tie Germany To Advance In World Cup Play

The U.S. soccer team meets Germany in a must-win World Cup match Thursday. The Americans need a win or a tie to decide their own fate — a loss would mean they need help to advance to the round of 16.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In case you have not heard, David, it's perfect fine to take this day off work. The coach of the U.S. soccer team has published an excuse note for Americans to send their employers saying they were busy World Cup.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

But Steve, we don't know if employers will accept this. We do know the United States plays Germany. The game in Recife, Brazil helps determine who escapes the so-called Group of Death and moves on to the knockout round.

INSKEEP: A second game also makes a difference here. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yes, it is split-screen Thursday. As the U.S. and Germany kickoff in Recife, the two other members of the group, Ghana and Portugal, start at the same time in Brasilia. The outcomes of both games could determine which two teams survive the group stage and advance. Unless the Germans and Americans play to a draw and snag a point each - that would put them both through. Now, there are hard-fought, exciting draws. And then there are the kind, that have been suggested all week here in Recife, where both teams say, let's make this easy on each other and draw. And with every suggestion of that, there's been a rebuke by coaches and players like German midfielder, Mesut Ozil.

MESUT OZIL: (German spoken).

GOLDMAN: As a player, we don't play for a draw, Ozil said yesterday. The purpose is to do our utmost to win. We want to win the group. That's what we're going to do - beat the United States. And who's going to argue? Germany has won three World Cups and is considered very much a contender for a fourth here in Brazil. Who's going to argue - U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, carefully.

JURGEN KLINSMANN: We are very well capable to be Germany without being too overconfident, without being too positive. It's possible. It's doable. As you've seen, this World Cup is full of surprises. We want to be one of those surprises.

GOLDMAN: So how do the Americans surprise today? They'll need to prove their fitness, which Klinsmann has been lauding all along. It was just four short days ago that the U.S. tied Portugal in steamy, energy-sapping Manaus. A worrisome stat for the U.S. - the four teams that played in Manaus, before the U.S. and Portugal, all lost their next game. Despite that the U.S. mantra stays the same, we're good. Here's midfielder Kyle Beckerman.

BECKERMAN: This is the biggest game of a lot of our lives, so any fatigue in our legs will be erased. We've done the proper stuff to recover the legs. And so we don't see the short rest as being a harm to us at all.

GOLDMAN: Another factor - will the back line, the defenders, be a harm to U.S. chances? Defense was the Americans' Achilles coming into the tournament. There have been some lapses. Both goals against in the Portugal followed defensive miscues. The disheartening last-second goal that turned a victory into a draw also was also blamed on midfielder Michael Bradley's mistake of losing possession of the ball. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Foreign language spoken).

GOLDMAN: The U.S. should know Germany appeared vulnerable to the relentless attacking and physical play by Ghana in their 2-2 draw. Today's game kicks off in the U.S. at 9 a.m. on the West Coast, noon on the East. It's an awkward time for working American fans. And it may slow the record number of TV viewers tuning in the U.S. team, including at least 24.7 million last Sunday. But yesterday in Recife, longtime U.S. Soccer president, Sunil Gulati said even though the numbers may dip today, he's heartened by the support and so are the players. But Gulati's been in this sport in the U.S. long enough not to be naive. He realizes how this current narrative can change with a bad outing today. Suddenly, the media spin becomes, the U.S. got lucky against Ghana. It blew a lead against Portugal and, worst-case, choked against Germany.

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SUNIL GULATI: This is razor-thin stuff. But the narrative is consistent and constant - is that the sport's in a different place. What's going on back home is completely different than it was even four years ago.

GOLDMAN: And today, one more match should try to keep it all going. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Recife.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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