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Upsets of Euro 2016 qualifying

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Germany Oct 10, 2014
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Honigstein: Low begins German rebuild

Germany Sep 3, 2014
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Jun 24, 2014

Germans don't have a word for draw

The word "draw" doesn't exist in German football. (It's an English phrase borrowed from boxing, where the purse would be drawn back down from the ring if there was no winner). There is no "tie," either. Games that finish with the teams scoring the same number of goals are called "Unentschieden." Literal translation: undecided.

Another Unentschieden on Thursday against the U.S. would decide everything rather conveniently, but more on that later. For the moment, it's the draw against Ghana that still occupies German minds, and as befits the result, it has left everyone in two minds, with more questions than answers.

On the one hand, the match in Fortaleza had brought about exactly the sort of highly pressurised, slightly unhinged situation in which manager Joachim Low's team has floundered in the past. This time, they didn't. In almost impossible conditions, against a Ghana team that was superior in athletic terms, the Nationalmannschaft fought back and emerged with their chances and confidence intact, with a 2-2 draw.

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"The team experienced that they have to 'bite' when things don't go according to plan," said assistant manager Hansi Flick. It was meant as a compliment. Most people didn't think this side came with an "epic battle" mode included.

Newspaper Die Welt described the match as "wild" football -- great fun to watch, but far too entertaining for Low. His team found no way to play through Ghana's well-organised midfield pressing and became unsettled. First Germany lost the ball, and then lost control of the game. The second half degenerated into end-to-end stuff without a meaningful midfield to speak of. Germany created enough chances to win, but they conceded enough chances to lose. They got lucky, and made their luck as well, thanks to the positive contributions of subs Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose.

Most teams would probably dust themselves off, tend to their wounds -- Thomas Muller needed stitches for a facial wound; Sami Khedira (knee) and Jerome Boateng (muscle problems) had to forgo training -- and move on at this point. But Germany can't.

Relief about the point against the Africans (and the subsequent draw between the U.S. and Portugal, which has left Germany in a very strong position to advance to the round of 16) immediately gave way to an urgent need to dissect this close shave with calamity.

Can Jurgen Klinsmann milk more magic from the U.S. team in their final game versus Germany, or will Joachim Low's side put the plucky Americans back in their place?

One player will feel the consequences most keenly. Shkodran Mustafi, the second-half substitute, looked ever so slightly out of his depth. He was at fault for Andre Ayew's equaliser, and eagle-eyed observers in the Arena Castelao noticed that his teammates seemed reluctant to pass him the ball. The newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung speculated that the Sampdoria defender might have played his last game in Brazil. "He could go from holidays to World Cup to holidays again," the broadsheet wrote about the 22-year-old, who had joined the squad as a late addition.

More troublesome are the question marks that have followed captain Philipp Lahm after the game. Lahm misplaced more passes Saturday than in entire seasons, one of which led directly to Ghana's second goal. The tabloid Bild didn't lose any time to demand the central midfielder's demotion back to his traditional right-back position. Flick ruled out that possibility, but Lahm needs to improve. It was interesting to hear the 30-year-old blame Germany's disrupted buildup on "tactical problems," while Mats Hummels said "individual mistakes" proved costly.

- Hummels: U.S. look surprisingly strong
- Klinsmann: Schedule doesn't favor U.S.
- Carlisle: Bradley at fault vs. Portugal, not to blame
- Bennett: U.S. have plenty to be happy about

Low would perhaps argue that the two cannot be neatly separated, in any case. Khedira, the key link between attack and midfield, looked every inch a player who hasn't played for six months when the humidity got to him within a few minutes. His replacement, Schweinsteiger, brought a burst of energy, but just as quickly wilted again. Low had warned extensively about this kind of situation, but he had had no choice but to take his not-quite-fully fit central players to Brazil anyway. He must hope that the dynamics in Fortaleza will prove to be a one-off. Ideally, Germany will keep the ball much better in future games.

The U.S., praised as "surprisingly strong" by Hummels on Monday, will pose similar problems on Thursday. The Dortmund defender stressed that Germany needs to play "a more active game," but not reckless. Low's team would win the group with a draw, and that result would also enable the U.S. and manager Jurgen Klinsmann to go through.

"Gijon" is the word doing the rounds. It's the Spanish city in which West Germany and Austria shamelessly played out a charade of a Word Cup game in 1982. It unsurprisingly ended with a 1-0 win for Germany, precisely the result that ensured both teams would make it to the second round, at the expense of Algeria. Hummels vowed that Germany would go for the win (and the top position in the group) but he jokingly admitted that he was unlikely to try to "dribble past four Americans in the 90th minute at 1-1".

Flick, too, promised there would be "no letup."

"We don't even think about taking a break; the team want to win," he said. That by itself won't allay the fears of Ghana and Portugal. But they can perhaps take some heart from the fact that Low's Germany don't tend to do Unentschieden. Before the Ghana draw, they had played out a crazy, once-in-a-million 4-4 with Sweden (after a 4-0 lead) in qualifying for Brazil, and before that, they had last tied a competitive game nearly five years ago, 1-1 versus Finland in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Germany would rather win the group than play Belgium in the next round -- and face all the questions that a mutually agreeable result against Klinsmann's team would bring in its tail.

Raphael Honigstein

Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian, among other outlets, and is the author of "Englischer Fussball."