SPORTS

U.S. World Cup Scenarios Offer Hope Of Escaping Group Of Death (But Ghana Can Still Mess It Up)

Jun 23, 2014 | Updated Jun 23, 2014
Christopher Lee via Getty Images

The United States can still experience life after the "Group of Death" at the 2014 World Cup. But Ghana could stll break U.S. hearts all over again.

The U.S. team was seconds from a win that would have sealed a spot in the Round of 16 before Portugal scored a last-gasp equalizer at Arena Amazonia in Manaus on Sunday. Having defeated Ghana in its opening match in Brazil, the U.S. would have clinched a spot in the second stage of the World Cup had it held on for the win. The stunning 2-2 tie ensured that all four teams in Group G will remain in contention to advance -- or be eliminated -- when the final pair of games in the group are played simultaneously on June 26.

"We got greedy and the soccer gods said, 'It's not that easy,'" former U.S. soccer player and current ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas said after the dramatic draw in the Amazon on Sunday night. "So, do it the hard way. Do it in three games."

With all four teams in Group G having played two games, Germany and the United States have four points while Ghana and Portugal each have a single point. In the group stage of the World Cup, each team is awarded three points for a win, one point for a tie and zero points for a loss. The top two teams from each of the eight groups advance into the Round of 16. FIFA has a series of tiebreakers in place should teams finish the group stage even on points.

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The United States missed a chance to secure advancement but still controls its destiny heading into its clash with Germany in Recife. While the two teams currently atop Group G play, Portugal will tangle with Ghana in Brasilia. Here is a look at the simplest two ways that the Americans can punch their own ticket for the next round of the 2014 World Cup.

WIN: A win for the United States over Germany will secure a spot in the Round of 16. With a win, the U.S. would also win Group G and play the second team to advance out of Group H in the knockout stage.

TIE: A tie between the United States and Germany will secure both teams spots in the Round of 16. With a tie, the U.S. would finish in second place in Group G behind Germany on goal differential.

It will even be possible for the United States to advance with a loss to Germany, provided the teams in the other Group G finale cooperate. Here is a look at scenarios in which the U.S. can advance even with a loss to Germany.

PORTUGAL-GHANA TIE: If neither team can pick up a win then the U.S. will be through even with a defeat to Germany. In this scenario, Ghana and Portugal would each pick up a single point and finish the group stage 0-2-1 with two points. With a loss to Germany, the U.S. would finish the group stage 1-1-1 with four points to advance as the second-place team.

PORTUGAL WINS, CLOSE: It's time for the U.S. to start rooting for Cristiano Ronaldo. A Portugal win is preferable to a Ghana win for the U.S. team, if it were to lose to Germany. Portugal enters its final group-stage game with a -4 goal differential while the U.S. is at +1. With goal differential being the first tiebreaker should the teams both finish with 1-1-1 records and four points, the U.S. could lose to Germany by a narrow margin and still advance on goal differential if Portugal wins close over Ghana.

For the third straight World Cup, Ghana could end up eliminating the U.S. from contention. The Black Stars dealt the U.S. tournament-ending defeats in 2006 and 2010. They can accomplish the feat from afar in 2014 by defeating Portugal by a large margin if the United States loses to Germany. Here is a look at the tiebreaker scenarios that may come into play for the U.S. with a defeat to Germany and a Ghana victory:

GOAL DIFFERENTIAL: Goal differential is the first tiebreaker used when teams finish the group stage tied on points. The U.S. enters its final group-stage game with a +1 goal differential while Ghana has a -1 goal differential. A U.S. loss to Germany and a Ghana win over Portugal would leave both teams tied with four points through three games, bringing goal differential in to play. The U.S. would be eliminated on goal differential if it loses to Germany by one goal while Ghana defeats Portugal by two goals. A blowout loss by the U.S. would open the door wide for Ghana to advance with a win of its own.

GOALS SCORED: Total goals scored is the second tiebreaker used when teams finish the group stage tied on points and goal differential. The U.S. enters its final group-stage game with four goals scored while Ghana enters with three goals. This tiebreaker would eliminate the United States if it were to lose to Germany by a one-goal margin while Ghana were to win by a one-goal margin in a higher scoring game. The teams would be level on points (4) and goal differential (0) but Ghana could then have more total goals scored.

HEAD-TO-HEAD RESULT: The U.S. would advance if it loses to Germany 1-0 while Ghana defeats Portugal 1-0. In that case, the teams would be tied on points (4), goal differential (0) and goals scored (4). The next tiebreaker would be the points taken from their head-to-head matchup. The U.S. took three points from that matchup with a 2-1 win. The U.S. holds an advantage over Ghana should this tiebreaker come into play, but would not hold such an advantage over Portugal should both teams finish the group stage tied for second place with the same number of points, an identical goal differential and an equal number of goals scored. In that case the head-to-head result would not prove decisive as both teams took a point from their meeting. The teams would then draw lots to determine who advanced.

With so many avenues into the Round of 16, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com gives the United States a 75.7 percent chance of advancing.

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