USA vs. Germany World Cup Primer: Everything You Need to Know About the Epic Showdown

The U.S. national team will square off against the Germans in Recife, Brazil, on Thursday at noon ET. Prepare for the big match with this handy guide.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


No, not for those two World Wars, Karl Marx, or Christoph Waltz’s 2013 Oscar win over badass Americans Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones. This one’s for the 2002 World Cup. That year, the U.S. national team managed to reach the quarterfinals on the backs of thrilling wins against Portugal (3-2) and Mexico (2-0), its best finish since 1930. There, at Munsu Cup Stadium in Ulsan, South Korea, the Americans faced off against the Germans. After falling prey to a header in the 39th minute, the U.S. appeared to have a great shot at an equalizer when German defender Torsten Frings committed a goal-line handball. But alas, the refs didn’t catch it, and Germany advanced 1-0. “We were fortunate,” said German coach Rudi Voller afterwards. “I believe the referee must have overlooked it.” The U.S. won’t have to face Frings again, though. He retired from soccer in February 2013.


The U.S. will advance to the Round of 16 with a win or a tie versus Germany. A win would also allow the U.S. to avoid a tough opponent from Group H in the following round (probably Belgium) in favor of Algeria, Russia, or South Korea. The U.S. will also advance if Portugal and Ghana tie. If the U.S. loses to Germany and one of Portugal or Ghana get a win, however, things get dicey. Tiebreakers are goal differential, greatest number of goals scored, and, further down, the drawing of lots. This “drawing of lots”—i.e., a random drawing—scenario could occur (and it never has before) if the U.S. loses to Germany, Portugal defeats Ghana by two goals, and the U.S. scores as many goals in their loss as Portugal concedes in their victory. Then, the U.S. and Portugal would be tied in points, goal differential, and goals scored. For the rest of the scenarios where the U.S. will advance with a loss to Germany, watch the above video.


While Germany’s 2-2 draw against Ghana in the previous round (following their 4-0 stomping of Portugal) hurt the U.S.’s chances of advancing, their heartbreaking 2-2 tie to Portugal boosted their chances of advancing to 76 percent, up from 65 percent prior to, according to stat whiz Nate Silver. And, thanks to a handy infographic provided by Sports Illustrated, we’ve learned that the odds of the U.S. winning the entire World Cup stand at 2.2 percent, while Germany has a 9 percent chance. Not too shabby, considering the Germans were No. 2 in the FIFA World Rankings (behind eliminated Spain) prior to the ’14 World Cup, while the U.S. was ranked 13th.


The last time the U.S. and Germany met was in an exhibition game on June 2, just prior to the start of the World Cup. Granted, it was just an exhibition, but the U.S. won 4-3 thanks to two goals by stud Clint Dempsey, who has scored in both of Team USA’s World Cup matches so far.


You’re going to hear a lot of talk before, during, and after the U.S.-Germany match about Klinsmann facing off against his home country of Germany. “It’s massive,” he said on the eve of the match. Klinsmann, for the uninitiated, was one of the greatest strikers in Germany history, helping lead the West German team to the 1990 World Cup, as well as the 1996 European Championship. He’s scored 11 goals in the World Cup, ranking sixth all-time. Also, in 2006, he coached the German team to a third-place World Cup finish, with his team losing a heartbreaker 2-0 to eventual champions Italy—with both goals coming in stoppage time, no less. Joachim Low, Germany’s current coach, served as Klinsmann’s assistant during the ’06 run.

However, since 1998, Klinsmann has been a resident of Orange County, California, and is married to a former California model with children. “My family will be a little bit split,” Klinsmann said Wednesday, “the folks in Germany and my folks in the U.S.” But neither Klinsmann nor the U.S. team is fazed by it. “He’s American now,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said.


Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

The U.S. national team’s coach isn’t the only German on the roster. There are also a whopping four German-born players on the U.S. squad: Jermaine Jones (Frankfurt), Fabian Johnson (Munich), Timothy Chandler (Frankfurt), and John Brooks Jr., the man that scored that game-winning header against Ghana, and was born in Berlin. He even has a tattoo representing his split allegiance on each of his elbows—one, a map of Germany, and the other, a map of Illinois. Meanwhile, Julian Green, the Team USA midfielder, was raised in Germany and plays for Bayern Munich.


On Tuesday, U.S. Soccer confirmed that Jozy Altidore, the Americans’ star striker, will remain out against Germany thanks to the pulled hamstring he suffered in the opener against Ghana. However, the team said that if Team USA advances, Altidore could be back for the next match. Meanwhile, U.S. defender Matt Besler, who seemed a bit dinged up after that Portugal stunner, will be good to go. The U.S. needs to fight off exhaustion, too. They’ve traveled over 9,000 miles all over Brazil for their group stage matches, including their last match against Portugal, which was set in the humid jungle city of Manaus.

The Germans, however, are at full strength.


The match between Team USA and Germany also pits two of the better goalies of the 2014 FIFA World Cup against one another: Germany’s Manuel Neuer, who’s perhaps been the very best goalie in the world over the past two seasons, and the mighty Tim Howard, who’s allowed just three goals so far—including two against Portugal that really weren’t his fault—and had some tremendous diving saves. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Germany, a team equipped with a string of goal scorers led by Bayern Munich star Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who’s also blessed with the most German last name ever (it means pig overseer).

On the offensive, the U.S. will more than likely adopt the exact same 4-2-3-1 formation they worked so well against Portugal in the previous match, with DaMarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, and Geoff Cameron as the back four; Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman as holding pair; Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, and Michael Bradley on attack; and Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. Klinsmann may also insert Aron Johannsson at some point if the Americans need added juice up front.


The 31-year-old midfielder with the heavy motor and son of Bob Bradley, the former coach of the U.S. men’s national team, has had a brutal first two matches. He’s looked sluggish, his touches have been sloppy, and he just seems to lack awareness on the pitch—usually one of his strengths. His giveaway with 37 seconds to go in the Portugal match cost the U.S. the game and an easy trek into the next round. It’s time for Bradley to step up and show everyone why he’s Team USA’s workhorse.


One German player Klinsmann is very familiar with is Miroslav Klose. The veteran 36-year-old striker was the star of the 2006 World Cup German team that Klinsmann coached, and is a total ball hawk. After entering late in the match against Ghana, he scored an equalizer in the 71st minute for his 15th career World Cup goal—tying Brazilian Ronaldo for the most in history.