MATHEW WAGNER - Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Is that a sense of deja vu creeping in?
With qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup already wrapped up more than eight months ago, Jürgen Klinsmann didn't allow the United States men's national team to slack off in Panama City, Panama.
Even though a loss to Panama could have eliminated archrival Mexico from contention for Brazil, Klinsmann said it wasn't in the spirit of the game to basically throw the match to give Panama the necessary points to move forward.
We all know what happened after that: Graham Zusi became "San Zusi" by equalizing in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, and then Aron Johannsson added another goal one minute later to give the U.S. a 3-2 win and save Mexico from staying at home this summer.
That philosophy will be put to the test this week when the U.S. squares off with Germany in the third and final group stage match and a place in the knockout stage at the World Cup on the line. The scenario is simple: A draw results in both Germany and the U.S. advancing, while a loss for either team makes things somewhat complicated.
Therefore, it's easy to believe the U.S. and Germany will decide upon a "gentleman's agreement" (or what some people call collusion), and it isn't the first time this has happened.
In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, West Germany and Austria participated in a match called the Schande von Gijón (the Disgrace of Gijón) or, somewhat inappropriately for its World War II reference, the Anschluss of 1982. At the expense of Algeria, which had played its final group-stage match the day prior, West Germany and Austria could both advance to the next round if West Germany won by two or less goals. Once Horst Hrubesch gave the Germans the lead in the 10th minute, neither team really attempted to score for the next 80 minutes, and the two teams screwed over the Desert Foxes.
Now, Germany and the U.S. could make a similar agreement, explicit or otherwise, and just play for the draw. Considering the ties between Klinsmann and Jogi Löw, there's some merit in the conspiracy theories in spite of the quotes coming out of both camps heading into the match.
Those conspiracy theories will prove to be unfounded by the time Thursday at 12 p.m. E.T. rolls around in Recife, Brazil, however, and here's why.
Although Klinsmann, advisor Berti Vogts and some of his players have deep connections to Germany, they will be motivated to beat Die Mannschaft. For Klinsmann, some of his success he had as Germany's coach in 2006 has been credited to Löw, especially in terms of tactics, and Die Nationalelf's current captain and former player, Philipp Lahm, criticized Klinsmann's tactical ability during the former World Cup champion's reign as coach of Bayern Munich during the 2008-2009 season. If there's anyone who wants to prove the doubters wrong and have the U.S. win on Thursday, it's Klinsi.
As for the five German-Americans on the roster, they have faced scrutiny from fans and media on this side of the Atlantic Ocean for growing up in the land of their mothers, and what better way is there to end make the doubters eat crow than to play a role in helping the U.S. beat Germany in the match and the group.
The Germans, meanwhile, will remember the 4-3 loss last year in Washington D.C., when the Yanks jumped out to a 4-1 lead before pulling a couple of goals back late. While it was against a B-team, two starters in the first two group matches, defenders Benedikt Höwedes and Per Mertesacker, participated in that match with conditions similar to what both teams will experience in Recife.
If all of that isn't enough motivation for both teams to go after it, then think about who the second-place team in this group will likely face in the Round of 16 - Belgium. The Belgians haven't exactly impressed in the tournament so far, but with all of the talent that team has, it's a scary proposition to face it, especially if the Belgians can put it all together (as the Americans experienced in Cleveland last May). The winner of Group G will avoid that possible difficult matchup and have an easier opponent in the next round.
Sure, Germany needs just a draw to win the group, but if the Americans kept pressing and scoring, the Germans will have to match them. No matter what, this match won't end as a goalless, soulless borefest.
Whether it's one-sided, a close match or a draw, there will be plenty of fireworks in Recife.