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Jun 22, 2014

How the U.S. can qualify for the last 16

Former USMNT head coach Bruce Arena joins the cast of World Cup Encore to analyse United States' performance against Portugal and their Group G fate.

Following the thrilling 2-2 draw between the U.S. and Portugal, here are the scenarios that would allow the U.S. to clinch a spot in the round of 16. 

Remaining fixtures:
- Thursday U.S. vs. Germany (ESPN, noon ET); Portugal vs. Ghana (ESPN2, noon ET)

Simplest Scenarios 

- Germany: Advance with win/draw vs. USA
- United States: Advance with win/draw vs. GER
- Portugal: Advance with win vs. GHA AND GER/USA do not tie, IF POR wins tiebreak with loser (see below)
- Ghana: Advance with win vs. POR AND GER/USA do not tie, IF GHA wins tiebreak with loser (see below)

U.S. Scenarios

- Win/draw vs. Germany
- Loss and Portugal-Ghana draw
- Loss and win tiebreaker vs. Portugal-Ghana winner

Updated Soccer Power Index odds to advance:
(All the group percentages available at fivethirtyeight.com)

- Germany: 99.7 percent
- United States: 75.8 percent
- Ghana: 19.1 percent
- Portugal: 5.4 percent

Tiebreakers

If the United States loses, Ghana would qualify instead if either game is decided by a margin of two goals or more. If the U.S. loses by one goal, Ghana would need to win by two goals or be involved in a higher-scoring one-goal win. For instance, a 1-0 scoreline in both games would put the United States through on head-to-head. So, if the U.S. loses 1-0, then Ghana must win 2-1 to qualify on goals scored.

U.S.-Ghana head-to-head tiebreaker needed: If the U.S. loses and Ghana wins by the exact same one-goal score, then they would be tied on points, goal difference and goals scored. The U.S. would then advance on the head-to-head tiebreaker. ESPN's Soccer Power Index calculates that there is a 1.82 percent chance this happens.

To surpass the U.S., Portugal will need a goal-difference swing of five (head-to-head is level). So for instance, Portugal would need to win 3-0 and U.S. lose 2-0, among other equivalent scorelines. The teams will draw lots if goal difference is identical (this would happen with a 3-0 U.S. defeat and a 2-0 Portugal win, for example).

Drawing of lots needed to break U.S.-Portugal tie: With any combination of Germany and Portugal wins in which Portugal outscores the U.S. by exactly two and gives up exactly three fewer goals, drawing of lots would be necessary to determine whether Portugal or the U.S. advances. ESPN's Soccer Power Index calculates that there is a 1.09 percent chance of this happening.

History

If the United States and Germany draw on Thursday, both will advance to the knockout stage regardless of Ghana and Portugal's result. There have already been questions about how much attacking will occur in that match, as there's precedent for German involvement in a mutually-assured advancement situation.

In 1982, West Germany was in a group with Algeria, Austria and Chile. A 3-2 Algeria win in its last match meant Algeria would be the first team to reach the knockout stage unless West Germany beat Austria by one or two goals -- in which case both European sides would advance. After Germany's Horst Hrubesch put the Germans in front in the 10th minute, both teams realized they were through if results held and basically stopped playing for the final 80 minutes (0 shots, barely any tackles, etc.).

The incident is what prompted FIFA to change the format of the final match of the group stage. All four teams in a group now play their third match simultaneously to avoid this scenario.

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