By now, the horror of Silvestre Varela’s last-minute equalizer for Portugal on Sunday has really sunk in for obsessive fans of team USA. Yes, the Upshot and FiveThirtyEight give the United States a roughly three in four chance of advancing to the second round. But that still leaves… way too many things that could go wrong.
Not that you need the refresher, but the U.S.’s paths to the Round of 16 are these. Beat Germany. Tie Germany. Lose to Germany, while Ghana and Portugal play to a draw. Or lose to Germany, but just not too badly, while either having Ghana win by a single goal or Portugal win that game—but again, by not too big a margin.
That brings us to the scary part(s):
—The U.S. has never (as in: never) beaten Germany in a World Cup match. The two previous encounters ended 1-0 in 2002, and 2-0 in 1998.
—Ghana has reached the knockout phase in every World Cup they’ve participated in.
—Ghana has also knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups. It’s like a curse. And it’s set to strike again.
—Portugal, like Germany, struggle against African opposition. In the 2010 group stages, they were held to a cagey, goalless draw by Côte d’Ivoire (who, despite their talent, still haven’t managed to progress past the group stages), and in 2006 eked out a 1-0 win over Angola in a dismal, disappointing game. That gives Ghana, a quick, physical side, an advantage on Thursday, as they will seek to stifle Portugal in the same way they did Thomas Mueller and company.
—Every team that's played in Manaus so far has lost their next game. Even if they won in Manaus. It's probably the heat and humidity of the rainforest taking a physical toll on the players, but so far the jinx has hit England, Italy, Cameroon, and Croatia. And the U.S. and Portugal are next on the list.
So, whatever the computer models may say, it is easy to imagine Michael Bradley spending the rest of his life living down that giveaway in the 94th minute, after all.
But now let’s look at the bright side(s):
—Ghana has not been a high-scoring team in World Cup play. The Black Stars haven’t managed to score more than two goals in any game in the last two tournaments, and their largest winning margin was a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic in 2006.
—In fact, Ghana’s average result in the 2010 World Cup and the 2014 tournament so far is actually a loss. The goals to goals against ratio is 1-1.22.
—Even a suddenly red-hot Cristiano Ronaldo probably can’t score enough goals to put Portugal through. Thanks to the four goals they gave up to Germany, Portugal would need to absolutely blow out Ghana in order to overtake the U.S. on goal differential, winning, say, 4-0, or 5-1. Since the Pretty One debuted on the international scene in 2004, Portugal have only managed a scoreline like that once in tournament finals. (That’s six tournaments now, Euros included.) And that particular game was a 7-0 drubbing of North Korea in the 2010 group stages, so it doesn’t really count.
—Over that same time period, Portugal’s average scoreline has victorious 1.36-0.96. A nice winning margin, but nothing to suggest the kind of firepower necessary to progress this time.
And finally, the nightmare scenario: The U.S. goes down 2-1 to the Germans in a hard-fought loss. Their goal differential drops to zero, but, more promisingly, Klinsmann’s side also pad their goals-scored tally, bringing it up to five. But meanwhile Ghana, which enters its last match with a goal differential of minus one, wins in a shootout in Brasilia, topping Portugal 3-2 on an own goal by Ronaldo’s hair in the 96th minute.
That leaves the U.S. tied on goal differential. But Ghana, with six goals scored the U.S.’s five, survives on that second tie-breaker. The Black Stars go on, the U.S. goes home.
Sleep well, American Outlaws!
Elaine Teng is the managing editor of The New Republic.