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American dream still alive in spite of defeat to Germans

IN the mainstream, more traditional American sports, only victors prosper.

The World Cup has  captured the imagination of the public in the United States, and their team has been supported by hordes of travelling fans in Brazil. Picture: Getty News
The World Cup has captured the imagination of the public in the United States, and their team has been supported by hordes of travelling fans in Brazil. Picture: Getty News

If you want to reach and then advance through the end-of-season play-offs so beloved in baseball, basketball, grid-iron and ice hockey then you have to win your games. Draws are unheard of.

Losing, but benefiting from others' misfortune, is another alien concept. The tens of thousands of recent US converts to professional soccer must, then, have been somewhat confused by yesterday's conclusion to World Cup Group G. We lost but we won? That was about the sum of it.

Any disappointment at the United States' narrow defeat by Germany would have dissipated quickly when word reached them that the four points gathered in their first two group games would be enough to carry them through to the last 16 of the competition. With neither Ghana nor Portugal in the other game able to find the result needed to take second place away from them, it meant Juergen Klinsmann and his players would remain in the competition. As the American philosopher, Homer Simpson, once noted sagely: "The two sweetest words in the English language: de-fault."

The American dream goes on, which is of course the most important thing. They seem to be finally getting football in the United States and their team advancing to the latter stages - while sides such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and England go home - can only be good for the cause. They were tuning in all across the country yesterday, thousands gathering to watch on the big screens set up in public areas in many of the major cities. Will Ferrell and Hulk Hogan sent, erm, inspirational good luck messages, and even President Obama was pictured taking in the match on Air Force One, no doubt getting into the spirit of things with a half-time pie and Bovril whipped up by the White House catering corps.

It was estimated that as many as 25 million had tuned in to watch the United States' game against Portugal - when only a last-minute equaliser stopped them from qualifying after two games - and those numbers will surely only grow the further Uncle Sam's army go in the tournament. An innovative PR stunt before yesterday's match had Klinsmann signing a permission slip urging employers and teachers to give workers and school children the day off to watch the game, and there will surely be even more sickies phoned in ahead of the next round.

The United States may have lost their final group game but at least they did so honourably. A fairly low-key first half had done little to douse the suspicion of those who wondered whether these two teams would cook up the draw that would allow both to progress. Best buddies Klinsmann and Joachim Loew, the opposing head coaches, had gone to some lengths in the build-up to deny that the idea had even crossed their minds but, after Germany's early dominance came to nothing, the prospect of the game simply meandering along tamely to a goalless draw didn't seem that fanciful at all.

Thomas Mueller's goal, zipped into the corner of the net, after 54 minutes, however, changed all that and immediately removed the possibility of another scandal to rival the one that irked Algeria so much in 1982. The Americans, having played competitively without threatening Manuel Neuer's goal up until that point, seemed rather stunned by the development and had little in the way of a response. Thankfully for them, they didn't require one.

Germany, though, needed the win. Not to progress to the knock-out phase, but to get their stuttering World Cup back on track. They remain among the favourites to go on and lift the trophy but their unconvincing display against Ghana in their second match had some wondering whether the opening 4-0 thrashing of Portugal had been something of a freak result.

They looked blunt again for large swathes against the United States, not creating a huge amount to trouble Tim Howard in goal. Loew must have seen enough in the first half to realise a change was needed, throwing on the veteran Miroslav Klose as a more traditional centre forward, switching Mueller to a wider role, and inviting Lukas Podolski to come join him on the bench. Klose could not get the goal that would have made him the World Cup's all-time leading goalscorer in his own right, but Mueller's strike at least ensured Germany would end the group on a high.

The feeling lingers, however, that they will need to find another gear if they are to progress deep into the competition. They were not always convincing against either Ghana or the USA, and will need to be more clinical with their chances if they are to see off better opposition in the knock-out stages. At least they are there. America, too.

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