Saturday, Sep 20, 2014

FIFA World Cup: After fall, spring

Portugal finished level on points with US in Group G but the Americans advance courtesy of a better goal difference despite their 0-1 loss to group winners Germany. (Source: AP) Portugal finished level on points with US in Group G but the Americans advance courtesy of a better goal difference despite their 0-1 loss to group winners Germany. (Source: AP)
Written by Aditya Iyer | Recife | Posted: June 27, 2014 1:35 am | Updated: June 27, 2014 11:03 am

Between two moments, spread over 120 seconds and 1200 miles, the impossible had happened. USA’s chant-happy manic fans lost their collective voices. In what seemed to take no more than an instant in real time, the thundering and repetitive calls of ‘U.S.A! U.S.A!’ in Arena Pernambuco’s wet terraces were overpowered by something far more deafening in a stadium — silence.

The first of those moments was Thomas Mueller’s goal. Arriving just 10 minutes into the second half, Germany’s second most prolific World Cup goal-scorer on the field (by this time, record-hunter Miroslav Klose was also in his national colours) had broken the deadlock with a most sensational strike from an angle outside the USA box.

The goal shocked the army in stars-and-stripes, but not nearly enough to zip their collective lips completely. No, for the Mueller goal hadn’t hurt USA’s chances of making it to the knock-outs just yet. But what surely did was an Asamoah Gyan equaliser for Ghana just two minutes later, against Portugal in far away Brasilia.

That scoreline flashed on both large screens here at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife. The US fans trailed into complete muteness, but must have cursed Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in their heads. After all, had it not been for a 95th minute Portugal goal (created by Ronaldo) in their previous match, they and their ‘soccer’ side would have already cozied up to the knock-outs.

Then, USA were 30 seconds away from qualification; now, the remaining 30 minutes on the clock began crawling like 30 years. Little of consequence happened on the field for USA in this time as all eyes, including one Jurgen Klinsmann’s, were on the decider in Brasilia. The Americans obviously hoped for Portugal to pull one back. And Germany hoped to press on ahead, just as they had all first-half long.

But just like the opening half it was hard to find the back of Tim Howard’s net.

On a soaked and irreparable field, a going-for-broke Alemania promised much. Germany, with reputation and a top-spot to play for, went full press. Like an aircraft shortly before take-off, Joachim Loew arranged his fullbacks wide and deep on the wings, with Bastian Schweinsteiger taking control of the cockpit. And take-off the pilot did, as early as the second minute of the game.

Story of the half

Releasing Germany’s point-man Mueller into a vast, damp space in the centre of midfield, Schweinsteiger watched the man with a total of eight World Cup goals thus far slide ahead, wrongfooting several American midfielders along the way. Mueller then swiftly tapped right to Jerome Boateng, who lofted the ball into the continued…

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