The U.S. will advance with a win or a draw against Germany.
Even if the U.S. loses — and there’s a 64% chance they lose, according to Nate Silver — there are a bunch of scenarios where they’d still advance, most of which require Portugal to draw or beat Ghana. That’s the real reason we’re all so optimistic — there’s a general sense that the U.S. will be ok, even with a loss to the Germans.
The problem is this: The U.S. would likely need a point against Germany if Ghana beats Portugal.
And right now Ghana looks like a much, much better team than Portugal.
Here’s a chart of U.S. advancement scenarios IF Germany wins and Ghana wins. There’s a ton of red:
The tiebreakers are complicated (read all about them here), but the bottom line in this scenario is that any Ghana win by more than one goal OR any U.S. loss by more than one goal sends the U.S. home.
That’s a scary proposition, especially with how bad Portugal has looked.
Portugal has a roster full of Champions League players, but they have been an hot mess at this World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly not himself after a knee injury. Fabio Coentrao, who’s so integral is starting counterattacks, is out for the World Cup. Their starting center forward has come out injured before halftime in two-straight games.
Through two games they have one point and a minus-four goal difference. Their chances of advancing are slim — 5% to be exact. Will they even be motivated for the Ghana game? Every World Cup we see a big team with star players collapse (France in 2010 is the prime example). Portugal might just be that team this time around.
Ghana, on the other hand, has probably been the second-best team in this group. They deserved a result from the U.S. game, which they dominated for 85 minutes before letting in a game-winning goal on a set piece. They pushed Germany, one of the three best teams in the world, to the brink and were 20 minutes away from winning before another set piece goal.
In short, you’d pick Ghana in this game if you were judging solely on form.
And if Ghana wins, the U.S. likely needs a point against Germany.
Germany has looked rampant going forward in this World Cup, scoring six goals in two games. While the U.S. defended well for big stretches against Ghana and attacked with purpose against Portugal, they have been prone to defensive blunders. All three goals the U.S. has allowed were the result of poor defending.
Germany is much more clinical than those two previous opponents. They don’t need defensive blunders to score. The U.S. could easily lose by two goals if we see the sort of mistakes we’ve seen through the first two games.
It’s a tall task for the U.S. to get a point here. It’s also a bit more necessary than some are making it out to be.
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