Recife: About 10 minutes before the end of the game, a large section of U.S. fans sitting behind the Germany goal abruptly broke into cheers. At the time, the ball was out of bounds for a throw-in, so the spontaneous eruption seemed strange. But the Americans had good reason to celebrate.
About 1,200 miles away from the Arena Pernambuco here, Portugal had scored to take a one-goal lead over Ghana, meaning the United States, which was on its way to losing to Germany, 1-0, would move on to the Round of 16 at the World Cup. It was not the most dramatic advancement - many of the U.S. fans here found out about its team's success via spotty cellphone service - but it did not matter. The United States, picked by many to falter in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, finished with a win, a loss and a tie. (Also read: Portugal's win in vain)
The Americans, who finished second behind Germany, are expected to face Belgium in Salvador on Tuesday for a place in the quarterfinals.
There had been some speculation ahead of the match that the two teams might conspire to produce a tie. That would have allowed both teams to advance (regardless of what happened in Brasilia) and since U.S coach Jurgen Klinsmann is German, there was a thought that he might work something out with Germany coach Joachim Low, who is one of Klinsmann's close friends.
Both coaches strenuously objected to that suggestion however, and the theory was quickly put to rest as the teams pushed hard from the start. Germany dominated possession for much of the game and Thomas Muller scored the game's only goal in the 56th minute when he blasted a rebound past Tim Howard and into the side netting.
That was dispiriting enough for the United States, but then, just moments later, came word that Ghana had tied the score of its game, 1-1. If Ghana could score again and the United States lost, Ghana would have eliminated the Americans for a third consecutive World Cup.
That sent murmurs through the smaller-than-expected crowd, which was clearly affected by the torrential rains that fell overnight here and left many of the streets unpassable because of flooding. Buses that were supposed to take friends and families of the U.S. players were not able to reach hotels in the city center, leaving some members of the traveling party unable to make the 13-mile trip to the stadium. Other U.S. fans were seen attempting to walk - sometimes through water that was hip high - after abandoning cars that were stuck in water that rose over the vehicle's wheel wells.
The U.S. team, which had a police escort helping its bus through the snarled traffic, had no issues reaching the stadium. The players arrived and surveyed the field, which generally held up well other than a few soggy patches; the area in front of one goal appeared to be a bit swampy, but the surface certainly drained better than the city's roads.
The slick turf allowed the Germans, who looked sluggish in a draw with Ghana in their second group game, to resume their quick-pace style. From the opening kickoff, Germany controlled the ball and, at one point, had completed 76 passes to the Americans' 7. The dominance led to a few decent chances - Muller and Per Mertesacker were lurking on dangerous crosses - but the Americans were stout.
Omar Gonzalez, who started in place of Geoff Cameron, contributed two important clearances, and Brad Davis, the other change from the Portugal game (he came in for Alejandro Bedoya) seemed to settle in well, too. The Americans finally seemed to snap into the game after about 20 minutes. They got forward on the counterattack well. Jermaine Jones began one break by winning a header in the defensive third and then charged upfield where Graham Zusi tried a devilish curling shot that sailed just over the crossbar.
That was among the few chances the Americans had, and once Muller scored to put the Germans ahead, it felt as if the United States was going to have to count on results elsewhere. Fortunately, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo delivered, scoring in Brasilia to start the party in Recife.
The ball bounced out of bounds here. The cheers, out of nowhere, began. It was not perfect for the Americans. But it was enough.
© 2014 New York Times News Service