U.S. lose but survive group of death
RECIFE, Brazil -- Here are three quick points after the U.S. dropped a tight 1-0 decision to Germany at Arena Pernambuco Thursday but still advanced to the knockout round with four points.
1. Somehow, the U.S. survived the group of death
Few people gave the Americans much chance to advance to the round of 16 before the World Cup kicked off -- at least outside the locker room. The relentlessly upbeat U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann really believed his team would emerge from Group G, which included Ghana and Portugal. More important, he got his players to not just believe it, but to expect success in Brazil.
The Americans got off to the best possible start when Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into their opening match against Ghana, and John Brooks' late winner in that game gave the U.S. momentum -- and three points -- that would prove invaluable.
They outplayed Portugal, but giving up a late equalizer in Manaus nearly came back to haunt the U.S. when Thomas Muller put Germany ahead in the second half, while Ghana leveled the score in their game against Selecao. Then Portugal scored again for the 2-1 win, and that was enough to send the U.S. through, despite the loss.
It was nervy to the end, to be sure. However it happened, though, it's a remarkable achievement for the Americans, who advanced in consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.
2. There is everything to play for now
Klinsmann said all along that the goal was to advance, that once the group stage is over, anything can happen in the knockout stage. He's right. Whatever team the U.S. meets in the second round -- Algeria or Belgium -- the Americans will not be fazed.
The big question is how much physical and emotional capital they spent getting there. The three first-round games took a lot out of the Americans, who played a smart, methodical game against Germany, only to lose on Muller's picture-perfect goal, but you still have to think they feel pretty good about themselves. You can also bet they like their chances in a one-off game that they're basically playing with house money.
3. Jermaine Jones' terrific tourney continues
Believe that German-American Jones has had this match circled on his calendar since the U.S. and Germany were paired together at December's draw. The 32-year-old midfielder, playing in his first (and likely last) World Cup, has probably been the best American player in Brazil, and his performance against his birth nation -- Jones even played a few times for Die Nationalmannschaft before casting his lot with the U.S. in 2009 -- was his best of the three first-round games.
He was everywhere in the first half, and his imposing presence and big-game chops give the U.S. a valuable asset they've sorely lacked at previous tournaments. Best of all, Jones got through the rough-and-tumble battle versus Germany without picking up a second yellow card, meaning he's available to play in the Americans' do-or-die round-of-16 match. Whoever they face, Klinsmann's team will need him.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.