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June 25, 2014

Direct Kick: Everything riding on Thursday’s match

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Thirty seconds. That’s all that stood between the United States booking its spot in the knockout round of the World Cup.

Thirty seconds.

The U.S. held a 2-1 lead over Portugal in Sunday’s match with 30 seconds left in added time. That’s when Cristiano Ronaldo found Varela, who headed the ball past Tim Howard for the equalizing goal that salvaged a 2-2 draw and broke the hearts of millions of U.S. soccer fans.

A win would have assured the United States a spot in the knockout round no matter the outcome of Thursday’s match with Germany. Now, the U.S. must get a result, either a win or a tie with the Germans, to advance. And that’s no easy task.

The U.S. and Germany both have four points, while Portugal and Ghana have a point each. You get three points for a win and one point for a draw in the group stage. Should the U.S. and Germany tie, they would both finish with five points and both would advance no matter what happens in the Portugal-Ghana match.

Beating the Germans will be a tall task for the U.S. A tie is doable. Even if the U.S. loses to Germany, there is still a chance for them to advance. If Ghana and Portugal tie and the U.S. loses, they would still advance. And if they lose they could still win the tiebreaker versus the Portugal-Ghana winner. Ghana would qualify if either game is decided by a margin of two goals or more. If the U.S. loses by one goal, Ghana would need to win by two goals or be involved in a higher-scoring one-goal win. For instance, a 1-0 scoreline in both games would put the United States through on head-to-head. So if the U.S. loses 1-0, then Ghana must win 2-1 to qualify on goals scored.

It’s much harder for Portugal to surpass the U.S. They would need a goal-difference swing of five to qualify. I don’t see that happening.

According to the updated Soccer Power Index, Germany has a 99.7 percent chance of advancing, while the U.S. has a 75.8 percent chance. Ghana sits at 19.1 percent and Portugal, 5.4.

So while things are a little more difficult, it’s not over with yet. Of course it would have been nice to have wrapped things up on Sunday and not have to go into the Germany match needed a result or help. But that’s soccer. While it can be beautiful, it can also be cruel sometimes. Just ask England and Spain. Two matches in and they have already been eliminated.

Even if the U.S. doesn’t advance, at least they can say they lasted longer than those two soccer powers.

I know that’s a small consolation. But it’s something.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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