Rea: U.S. team’s fate is in its own hands

Got your calculator ready?

Will you be watching the United States/Germany game on TV and streaming the Portugal/Ghana match on your laptop while crunching the numbers on your iPad?

Or are you just thankful the Americans have their fate in their own hands, confident they will get the result they need to progress without relying on another country to help them?

I realize the situation that will unfold Thursday seems bizarre to casual soccer fans here in South Louisiana. With most sports, it’s usually a straightforward case of whoever wins the most games qualifies for the postseason, wins the pennant, etc. But during the 90 minutes of the deciding contests in Group G of the World Cup on Thursday, who will advance likely will change two or three times depending on who scores when.

The great thing about this (and this helps the U.S. team) is that all four of the countries can still qualify for the knockout stage. It would take an unprecedented goal difference swing for the Germans to be knocked out, but they want to win the group and avoid a probable meeting with Belgium in the Round of 16. Luckily for the U.S., a tie is all the Germans need to do this.

More good news for the Americans is that both Ghana and Portugal have something to play for. Portugal will attack from the start, desperate to make up the goal differential after its disastrous 4-0 defeat to Germany. But the Ghanaians are still in the mix and are actually in a better position than the Portuguese. All they have to do is win and hope the Germans win by two goals.

The U.S. team could lose by a goal but still advance even if the Portuguese win by three. But the Americans would be eliminated if Ghana wins by two. Meanwhile, if the Ghana/Portugal match ends in a tie, then the U.S. could lose to Germany by six goals and advance, while if they are defeated by more than a goal then … look, forget all that.

Concentrate on this: The Americans need a win or tie against Germany, and they will advance no matter what. And they are capable of getting it.

We have seen two different styles of play from the Americans at this World Cup. After a brilliant start against Ghana, they were forced to defend for the rest of the game. Against Portugal, they fell behind so early that they had to attack. They proved they can adapt and handle both scenarios.

But it’s going to be a true test of character, strength and resolve. They will have to be at the very top of their game and cut out the poor defending and individual errors that marred the Portugal performance. Those two mistakes — a bad clearance at the start of the match and dallying too long on the ball at the end of it — were ruthlessly punished.

But Ghana scored twice against the Germans, and the States can as well. Germany is undoubtedly a contender for the tournament title, but although razor sharp and blitzkrieg-quick up front, it can be suspect and unsure on defense. The U.S. team is strong enough to secure the vital point needed to make the other game immaterial.

If they make it to the next stage, it would arguably be America’s finest soccer hour of modern times. Although they made it out of their groups in 2002 and 2010, nobody outside of this continent gave the Americans a chance of doing it this year. Many predicted they would leave Brazil without scoring a goal or earning a point; never before have the nations ranked second and fourth in the world been in the same group.

If Germany just needs a tie to win the group, and the States needs one to qualify, is there a mutually beneficially rigged match on the cards? The Germans have done it before. I was at the World Cup in Spain in 1982 when West Germany went 1-0 ahead against Austria, a score that meant both went through to the next round, and the teams shamefully retreated to their own ends of the field and mocked the very concept of competition. That embarrassment was why the last group matches now kick off simultaneously. The global soccer community is watching this game, and it won’t play out like that Thursday.

But if it’s tied with 10 minutes to go, then both countries may settle for a draw. If the U.S. team needs a goal, expect an all-out attack in the dying minutes. But if the score suits both teams, then one may just opt to keep the ball — and the other will let them.

And of course there is another possibility: The Americans could win and top the group. But no matter what happens, with their displays in this World Cup, they have proved they are a force to be reckoned with.