World Cup’s Group of Death living to its name on final matchday

RECIFE, Brazil —

Going into Thursday’s final round of group games, it’s all to play for in Group G of the 2014 World Cup. All four teams — the United States, Germany, Portugal and Ghana — still have a chance of advancing when their last matches kick off simultaneously. The USA and Germany face off here in Recife at noon eastern. Portugal and Ghana will do battle in Brasilia at the same time.

The scenarios are complex. Here’s our team by team breakdown:

Germany: The Germans have looked impressive so far in this tournament despite being surprised by Ghana in a 2-2 thriller. They started off with a bang, whipping Portugal 4-0. They are the heavy favorites against the Americans, but are not invincible: the USA beat them, 4-3, in a friendly last June. That was against Germany’s B-team though, so make of that what you will.

All Germany needs to win the group outright is a victory or a tie. Even with a loss, they can advance unless they lose so badly that up their goal difference shrinks. Germany’s scoring differential is five goals ahead of Ghana’s and eight of Portugal’s. So Die Mannschaft is all but a lock to make it through. Which might be good news for the Americans.


USA: The spirited Yanks have already played two grueling games, beating Ghana 2-1 in a glorified wrestling match and tying Portugal 2-2 in the oppressive jungle conditions in Manaus. Save for striker Jozy Altidore — a big loss, mind you — they are healthy. But the unfancied Americans are in the driver’s seat to make it through the Round of 16 from this group of death.

The United States move on with a draw against Germany. A win is even better, of course, as the Americans would win their group and avoid the winner of Group H in the next round. If the Yanks lose, they’ll still go through if Ghana and Portugal tie; or if the winner doesn’t make up the goal difference. Ghana would need to make up three goals; Portugal five. Bottom line: the USA will be rooting for a Ghana loss.

Ghana: The Black Stars apparently have just staved off a player strike after the country’s president stepped in and took care of unpaid bonuses at the eleventh hour. They are a team that will feel hard done by so far, since they staked a strong claim for a win in both their contests. But, they have a mere point to show for it. Ghana need to win and need Germany to beat the USA. Even then, they have that goal difference to make up. And there’s no way for them to catch Germany.

Portugal: The Iberians have had a bit of a disastrous World Cup thus far, getting hammered by the Germans and allowing the US to come back from an early goal. They then got a 95th minute equalizer to stay in contention. They have been ravaged by injuries, a suspension and the middling form of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, laboring through several injuries. Portugal can’t win the group either, and they have all that goal difference to make up in case the USA loses. Theirs is the longest of shots.

But funny things have been happening in this World Cup. Funny things may well happen again. Nobody in this group is safe, and nobody is quite out of it either.