In Loss To Germany, U.S. Escapes With A Skid From 'Group Of Death'

Despite losing to Germany in the final match of the group stage, the U.S. soccer team is advancing to the knockout round of the World Cup.

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(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

FANS: U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A..

BLOCK: The sound of euphoric, American fans at the World Cup, celebrating in Recife, Brazil, after the U.S. lost to Germany today. Despite that one-nothing defeat, the U.S. will advance to the round of 16, the knockout round, because of the outcome of today's match between Portugal and Ghana. NPR's Tom Goldman was at the U.S.-Germany match and joins me now from Recife. And, Tom, team U.S.A. wasn't given a chance of getting out of this so-called group of death. But what do you know? They did it.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: They survived the group of death. How about that? Yeah. You know, we've been talking about that as they've been going through and inching their way toward the top. You know, first a win over Ghana and then the tie with Portugal. I've never seen a team that lost look so happy. They were down on the field. And they were applauding to the fans, the American Outlaws. And the American Outlaws were applauding back to them. It was a big love fest. So yeah, good day for the U.S..

BLOCK: So they advance, in a torrential downpour there, we should say, in Recife, in a game that you can't say was very beautifully played. But they struggled through. And they live on.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. And, you know, it's interesting. FIFA, before the game, inspected the field because there was thought that, you know, with this torrential rain, they were going to have to call it. But they didn't - and good thing because the field was in excellent condition. And the players talked about that, too. So the drainage must've been excellent. You didn't see, you know, rooster tails following the ball. You didn't see guys falling all over any more than they do. You know, the conditions were fine other than having this driving rain in your face the entire time.

BLOCK: And we should explain what happened today, Tom, because even with this this loss, as we say, they do advance because Portugal ended up beating Ghana. If Ghana had beat Portugal and the U.S. lost one to nothing, Ghana would have advanced. The U.S. would've been out.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. And it would've gotten down to - Ghana would have to had won by more than, you know, a one goal advantage. So they would've had to really put it on against Portugal. But they didn't. In fact, as you said, Portugal won. So the U.S. - some will say they kind of backed in. But I don't think they feel that way. They feel that they did their great work early in the group stage when they got the win over a very tough Ghana a team, when they got the tie against Portugal that probably should have been a win. They were 30 seconds away from a win. So they did that hard work. And then, you know, although they didn't play very well today - they didn't possess the ball. They didn't hold onto the ball, basically, on offense. But their defense - because Germany is such a controlling team - their defense did a really outstanding job limiting Germany to just one goal.

BLOCK: Tom, you spoke with some of the U.S. players after the match. What did they say, both about today's game and looking forward to the knockout stage?

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah, I mean, a lot of them were saying the same kind of thing. You know, a loss never felt so good. Juergen Klinsmann, who is the chirpy head coach for the U.S. - always positive, always optimistic - he said this was a magnificent thing. And I think he's right - the fact that, you know, when the draw came out late last year, everyone said, book your ticket for three games and come home. But now the U.S. is going on. You know, the Portugal-Ghana game was always part of the backdrop here.

BLOCK: Yeah, we should say, Portugal was playing Ghana at the same time that the U.S. was playing Germany.

GOLDMAN: They were. Yeah. And we asked some of the players, you know, were you aware of it? Did you, you know, did you get reports? And Matt Besler, the defender, said he went into the game not wanting to know what was happening. But then, with about 15 minutes left, he said, yeah, I wanted to know because I wanted to know if we had to tailor our game depending on the outcome of that game. And then, when he found out that Portugal had gone ahead, he said he talked to his defensive linemate, Omar Gonzalez, and he said, our job - we cannot let Germany score any more goals. So Besler knew in those last 15 minutes. And it determined how he played.

BLOCK: So on they go, Tom. Team U.S.A. will play on Tuesday. It'll be either Belgium or Algeria. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Tom Goldman, speaking to us from the World Cup in Recife, Brazil.

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