The United States has progressed to the FIFA World Cup knockout stage for the fifth time in its history despite a 1-0 loss to Germany on Thursday.
Portugal’s 2-1 defeat of Ghana put them level on four points with the U.S., but Jurgen Klinsmann’s side advances with a superior goal difference. As runners-up in Group G, the Americans will face Group H winners Belgium on Tuesday in Salvador (3 p.m. CT, ESPN).
Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi started the match in rain-soaked Recife, with Besler playing the full match and Zusi exiting in the 84th minute. Thomas Muller’s fourth goal of the World Cup in the 55th minute was the match-winner and sent Germany atop the group with seven points.
The U.S. was on its heels early but prevented Germany from breaking through. Muller nearly put his team ahead twice in the first 15 minutes if not for two well-timed slide tackles inside the penalty area from Omar Gonzalez, who replaced Geoff Cameron as Besler’s central defense partner.
The Americans’ first collective attack upfield almost resulted in a stunning goal from Zusi in the 22nd minute. He received a pass from Michael Bradley on the left edge of the penalty box, took a touch to the middle and fired a shot just above the crossbar.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard made three saves in the first half, his best coming 10 minutes before the break to deny Mesut Ozil and keep Germany off the scoreboard.
The second half began much like the first—with Germany taking the initiative in attack—and the U.S. fell behind after 55 minutes. Howard did well to push away Per Mertesacker’s header, but Muller was lurking near the top of the box and curled the rebound into the corner of the net.
The Germans controlled possession for the remainder of the match but rarely tested Howard as the U.S. remained organized along the backline. Besler’s crucial tackle on Ozil in the 83rd minute ended an incisive German attack and kept the U.S. within a single goal.
A last-gasp break forward nearly saw the U.S. equalize. Second half substitute Alejandro Bedoya struck from 18 yards out, but Philipp Lahm slid to block the shot. On the ensuing corner, Dempsey headed narrowly wide.
Despite the result, the U.S. emerges from a daunting group that included second-ranked Germany, fourth-ranked Portugal and perennial African power Ghana, marking the first time the country has qualified for the knockout stage in consecutive World Cups.
The Americans’ advancement also means that CONCACAF has sent three teams to the Round of 16 for the first time in World Cup history. Mexico finished second in Group A behind hosts Brazil, and Costa Rica provided one of the tournament’s biggest surprises by winning Group C.
Besler and Zusi earned their 20th and 26th caps, respectively. Sporting KC is the only club to have two players appear in all three group stage matches for the U.S.