Recife: Jurgen Klinsmann almost paid the ultimate price for doubting Thomas Mueller, but despite suffering defeat against Germany in Recife, the USA coach and his team live to fight another day at this World Cup.
For all the talk of Klinsmann being ushered into the second round with a comfortable draw against the country of his birth, Mueller’s second-half goal ensured an anxious wait for the Americans to be certain of their place in the knock-out stages. Ghana’s defeat against Portugal in Brasilia thwarted the Africans’ hopes of ousting the States from second place, but Germany certainly made life difficult for Klinsmann. World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo also booked an early flight home.
And it was Mueller, a player handed his debut at Bayern Munich by Klinsmann as an 18-year-old but then offered for sale to Hoffenheim, who left his former mentor frantically looking over his shoulder. Mueller has made more than one mention of Klinsmann’s readiness to sell him at Bayern, so the rejection clearly still rankles.
But rather than deliver the knock-out blow to Klinsmann and the Americans, Mueller’s winner merely served as a reminder of his uncanny knack of scoring goals when it matters on the biggest stage.
Despite the awful weather conditions, which had seen a city of 3.7 million brought to a standstill by torrential rain that had left roads flooded and many supporters stranded on the 25-mile journey from the city to the stadium, the game went ahead on time and with no obvious sign of the wet weather on the playing surface.
The rain continued to pour in Biblical proportions, yet the surface held up well — unlike the drainage system in Brazil’s fifth largest city.
And while the elements could have led to a tepid encounter between two teams more interested in avoiding the risk of injury on a slippery pitch when a draw would secure qualification for both, there was a genuine intensity to the encounter.
Concerns of a repeat of West Germany’s infamous meeting with Austria in the 1982 World Cup, dubbed the ‘Shame of Gijon’ due to the teams playing out a mutual beneficial result, came to nothing, with managers Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Loew sending their teams out to fight for the victory.
That should never have been in doubt, despite the rival managers’ close friendship and Klinsmann’s status as a German legend following his heroics at Italia 90.
The Americans’ determination clearly rattled the Germans, however. Bastian Schweinsteiger, for one, grew increasingly agitated by the physical approach of US midfielders Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
But with a starting line-up containing seven players from the much-maligned MLS, including the impressive holding midfielder Beckerman, the Americans took the game to Germany and attempted to secure the win that would see them qualify as group winners.
The United States were the last team to defeat Germany, in a 4-3 victory in Washington DC 12 months ago, but a repeat of that success on the World Cup stage would be regarded as a high watermark for football in the country.
But despite their confident approach, the Americans could not make the breakthrough in a lively first-half.
Graham Zusi, the Sporting Kansas City winger, went closest to opening the scoring for Klinsmann’s team on 23 minutes when he collected Michael Bradley’s pass before curling a 25-yard shot narrowly over Manuel Neuer’s crossbar.
Germany proved most dangerous on the counter-attack, with right-back Jerome Boateng repeatedly getting the better of DaMarcus Beasley in order to cross into the penalty area. Lukas Podolski went close from one Boateng cross, while Mesut Ozil forced a save from Tim Howard with a left-foot shot which was initially fumbled by the Everton goalkeeper.
Germany’s lacklustre first-half prompted Loew to replace Podolski with Miroslav Klose at the interval and the change immediately altered the flow of the game. From allowing the Americans to dictate the play, Germany gained control of the ball and asserted their authority on Klinsmann’s team.
Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos won the midfield battle and the Americans struggled to escape their defensive third. Germany finally made the breakthrough on 55 minutes when Mueller maintained his incredible record at the World Cup by scoring a stunning goal from 18 yards.
The Bayern Munich forward, Golden Boot winner at South Africa 2010, was left unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and when Howard could only palm away Ozil’s header, Mueller stroked the ball into the net with composure and precision.
It was enough to seal the victory and win the group for Germany, also add a few grey hairs to Klinsmann’s blonde mane. Mueller certainly made his point to his former manager, but Klinsmann and United States can console themselves that they are going to Salvador in the last sixteen rather than heading home.
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Per Mertesacker, Benedikt Hoewedes; Bastian Schweinsteiger (Mario Goetze 76), Philip Lahm; Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil (Andre Schuerrle 89), Lukas Podolski (Miroslav Klose 46); Thomas Mueller.
USA: Tim Howard; Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley; Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi (DeAndre Yedlin 84), Brad Davis (Alejandro Bedoya 59); Clint Dempsey
Man of the Match: Thomas Mueller
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan).