RECIFE, Brazil -- The sky was crying at the Arena Pernambuco, but it wasn't enough to dampen the spirits of the U.S. national team, which secured passage to the second round despite a 1-0 loss to Germany.
Thomas Muller's second-half goal proved to be the difference, and while the result was disappointing on the day, the U.S. remains alive in the tournament. The Americans finished second in Group G with four points, edging Portugal on goal difference.
That said, Germany was good value for its victory, as it controlled large stretches of the match against an American side that looked heavy-legged and didn't cope well with pressing of its opponents.
That the U.S. survived still makes for a massive achievement given the difficulty of the group. It also marked the first time the Americans have qualified for the second stage in consecutive World Cups. Now a matchup against the winner of Group H awaits.
The Americans' progress also proved to be vindication of sorts for manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who has proved correct on almost every move he has made, whether it was his choice of personnel or tactics. That trend continued Thursday with his decision to bring in defender Omar Gonzalez for Geoff Cameron. Gonzalez played well, as did the back line.
It was the result that put to rest the conspiracy theories that U.S. manager Klinsmann and German counterpart Joachim Low would plot to have the match end in a mutually beneficial draw. If fact, it was evident in the opening minutes that Germany would go for the win, as it seized the attacking initiative and maintained it for almost the entire match. Right back Jerome Boateng continually made inroads down the right wing, and only a combination of desperate defending by the U.S. back line and secure handling from goalkeeper Tim Howard kept Germany off the scoreboard.
One reset corner in the 10th minute saw the ball played wide to Muller, who played in a dangerous ball into the box, only for Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Howedes to get in each other's way.
The Americans were largely struggling to keep possession, but a run out of midfield by Jermaine Jones in the 22nd minute sparked a slick buildup. The attack culminated with Michael Bradley finding Graham Zusi on the left side of the box, but he fired just over the bar.
The move seemed to give the U.S. a jolt of confidence, enabling the match to be played out on more level terms for a spell. But Germany regained control, with Mesut Ozil forcing Howard into a sharp save in the 35th minute
Germany started the second half much like the first, with Boateng delivering a dangerous ball into the box, but Gonzalez put Ozil under enough pressure to force the German to head over.
Germany's steady pressure finally paid off in the 54th minute. Mertesacker's header following a short corner was brilliantly saved by Howard, but Muller collected the rebound and lashed the ball home to put Germany ahead.
Germany continued to control matters, and only a tackle from Matt Besler on Ozil in the 83rd minute kept the U.S. in the match.
A late flurry from the U.S. nearly saw it steal a point. A flowing move ended with Alejandro Bedoya getting a late look, but his shot was blocked by a sliding Philipp Lahm. Dempsey then latched on to the ensuing corner, but could only put his header wide.
Ultimately, the match proved to be a loss on the day for the Americans, but progression to the second round will be viewed as victory enough, with the relief evident on the faces of the players after the final whistle.
Player ratings: (0-10)
G Tim Howard, 8 - His secure handling on some low crosses kept Germany at bay in the first half, and he did well to stop an Ozil effort. Delivered a brilliant save to deny Mertesacker but could do nothing with Muller's follow-up.
D DaMarcus Beasley, 7 - Had difficulty coping with Boateng early on but perked up a bit to be effective on both sides of the ball and was impeccable with his distribution.
D Matt Besler, 7 - Was his usual consistent self both with his defending and his passing. He's gotten stronger as the tournament has gone on.
D Omar Gonzalez, 7 - Lost Muller on one early sequence but overall was dominating in the air and later delivered a key tackle on Muller.
D Fabian Johnson, 5.5 - Struggled to contain the runs of Lukas Podolski initially but adjusted well. Still wasn't as impactful going forward as he was in past games, as he was forced to defend for long stretches.
M Kyle Beckerman, 6.5 - Did what he could to muck up the middle of the field against Germany's attacks and was sharp with his passing.
M Jermaine Jones, 6.5 - Gave the U.S. a spark with a surging run out of midfield as well as with his tackling. His passing eroded a bit as the game went on.
M Brad Davis, 6 - Looked more comfortable after switching sides and provided some decent link play in the attacking half. Just couldn't get on the ball enough.
M Michael Bradley, 5 - Teed up Zusi for the Americans' best chance in the first half and tackled with abandon but still didn't look good in the attacking half.
M Graham Zusi, 5 - Went close with one fierce drive in the first half. Set pieces left something to be desired. On a day when possession was scarce, didn't take good enough care of the ball.
F Clint Dempsey, 5 - Was often left isolated in the first half, and when he did get the ball had difficulty linking up with teammates.
M Alejandro Bedoya, 5.5 - Was quiet initially but nearly bagged a goal at the end only to see his effort blocked.
M DeAndre Yedlin, 6 - Got forward well and was involved in the late attack that led to Bedoya's effort.