RECIFE, Brazil — This is a game with intriguing story lines: David against Goliath. Master against apprentice. Determination against precision.
This is a game the U.S. can’t afford to lose.
This is a game that will be “massive.”
“There’s no other word to say (it),” said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
At 10 a.m. MDT Thursday (live on ESPN), the United States soccer team takes on the soccer behemoth Germany in the globe’s biggest sporting spectacle, the World Cup.
Chances are, that for those 90-some minutes, your office will get little work done.
Your co-workers will huddle by the TVs in the break room. Your bosses will likely be away at long “lunches.”
And you, who was perfectly content going through life blissfully unconcerned about soccer, will feel a little left out.
Well, fear not.
Here’s a cheat sheet to make you an insta-pundit on this crucial showdown.
Why you should care
The eyes of the world are on the U.S.
America can’t very well be the world’s super power and be mediocre at soccer. This is its chance to go toe-to-toe with the second-best team in the business: the ruthlessly efficient Germany.
When the tournament began, the luck of the draw placed the U.S. team in the so-called “Group of Death.”
The boys, led by Clint Dempsey aka “Captain America,” survived Ghana, beating them 2-1.
Then, they almost slayed powerhouse Portugal. Almost — but for a last-minute header that torpedoed their lead. That game ended in a 2-2 draw.
Now, the only thing standing between this group stage and a sweet spot in the next round is Die Mannschaft, German for “The Team.”
”The United States is known to give everything they have in every single game,” Klinsmann said. “We have that fighting spirit.”
Why you should worry
Here’s one reason: The two teams have met nine times; Germany’s come out on top six of those times.
Here’s another: In the last seven World Cups, Germany has always won its its third game. This is its third. Gulp!
Here’s a third: Team USA’s last game was in Manaus, a notoriously hot and muggy field in the Brazilian jungle. Every other team that played in that giant sauna lost their next matches.
Why you shouldn’t worry
Because the same man who was responsible for transforming Germany into a lean, mean fighting machine is now the U.S. coach.
Klinsmann took the German national team all the way to the World Cup semifinals in 2006. More importantly, he changed the way the Germans played. He turned a defense-minded squad into hungry goal-seekers.
He’s instilled those same traits on the U.S. team.
“We know how dangerous Team USA can be if we only play at 90% and not take them seriously,” said German player Mesu Oezil.
Germany may have peaked. The team decimated Portugal in its first game, but looked sluggish against Ghana. The U.S. was potent in its first match; even better in its second.
Need a third?
The last time the teams met — at a friendly in June last year — USA beat Germany 4-3.
Who you should watch
Germany’s Thomas Muller. He is one of only two players who’ve scored a hat trick in this tournament — that’s 3 goals in one game. (The other is Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri.) Hat tricks are rare — and a true measure of a striker’s prowess.
On the U.S. side, Clint Dempsey won’t disappoint. He scored the sixth-fastest goal in World Cup history when he plowed one in 29 seconds into Team USA’s opener with Ghana. He took a feet to the face, broke his nose — and returned in the game against Portugal to score again.
Expect a comeback from Michael Bradley. He’s been a disappointment so far. He kept losing the ball during the Ghana match. And even though he was much, much better in the second U.S. outing, it was he who lost the ball that led Portugal to tie the game.
He’ll be looking to redeem his reputation as “Il Generale” (the General), a nickname Italian fans bestowed on him when he played for the club, Roma, for his ability to take charge and score goals.
Who won’t be there
Reliable goal scorer Jozy Altidore, who strained his hamstring in the opener. He sat out the Portugal game and has to sit out this one too.
What should you ignore
Any talk of the two teams conspiring to settle for a tie.
If the U.S. and Germany play to a draw, both advance to the second round. This has led some soccer fans to grouse that given Klinsmann’s close relationship with the German coach, the two may strike some sort of backroom deal.
Joachim Loew was Klinsmann’s assistant when he coached the German national team. The two are now close friends. Also, Team USA’s roster is stacked with five German-Americans who will now go head-to-head with the same players they grew up with.
But both coaches have rejected any talk of colluding.
“‘I don’t think that we are made for draws,” Klinsmann said after the Portugal encounter. “‘I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group.”
Loew is equally dismissive.
“When you want to draw, it never works. It’s impossible,” he said. “Always, the aim is to win the match.”
What should the U.S. do
In Tim Howard, the U.S has one of the best goal keepers in the world. But he will be tested big time by a relentless German attack.
So, the U.S. has to try and go for an early goal, like it did with Ghana. Aside from an incredible morale boost, it’s better than trying to keep Germany at bay for 90 minutes.
How can the U.S. advance
There are several scenarios.
The obvious is to beat Germany outright. Team USA would get three points for the victory, giving it seven. No other team in the group can match that, so the Americans go through to the next stage.
It goes through even with a tie. That gives both five points.
But if the U.S. loses, things get complicated. It’ll then depend on the outcome of the other Ghana-Portugal game, which will be going on at the same time.
Portugal wins by a narrow margin, USA still comes second in the group and goes through. That’s because Portugal is way down in the point count.
But if Ghana wins by two or more, it’ll be the Africans and not the Americans who advance — making this the third World Cup in a row where Ghana eliminates Team USA.