A late Portugese goal kept the United States men’s team from clinching a berth in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup Sunday. While the U.S. still has some control of its own fate, there’s still a wide range of scenarios that could send the U.S ahead, or send the team back home.
Currently, in the so-called “Group of Death (Group G),” the U.S> and Germany are tied with four points apiece. Ghana and Portugal are behind with one point per squad. The top two teams from each of the eight groups will advance.
If the U.S. beats or ties Germany in the next game, the U.S. would make it to the next round at the World Cup. That would give the U.S. seven points and first place in the group. Another quick way for the U.S. to qualify for the next round is for the Portugal-Ghana games ends in a tie.
A tie between Ghana and Portugal would give each team one point, but that would leave both with just two points and the U.S. would thus clinch at least second-place in the group.
If the U.S. loses outright to Germany, and there’s a winner in the Portugal-Ghana game, then tiebreakers come into play. The first tiebreaker is goal difference, followed by goals scored, and head-to-head play.
Portugal enters the final group-stage game with a -4 goal differential while the U.S. is at +1. As long as the U.S. doesn’t get mauled by Germany, the U.S. team could lose to Germany and still advance as long as Portugal didn’t beat Ghana by enough goals to erase the goal differential.
On the other hand, if Ghana was to beat Portugal, it has a better shot at overtaking the U.S. Ghana enters the final game with a goal differential of -1. So, if the U.S. loses to Germany by one goal and Ghana defeats Portugal by two goals, then Ghana would advance.
If the goal difference tiebreaker doesn’t settle things, then the total number of goals scored in all group matches would be on the table. The U.S. has four goals in group play to Ghana’s three and Portugal’s two.
The U.S. can also advance if points are tied, goal differential is zero, and goals scored are tied. The U.S. would advance over Ghana due to its win. However, if Portugal and the U.S. are in the exact same scenario, the tie from the group game would mean the teams would draw lots to determine who advanced.
In the end, it’s simple for the U.S., win or tie and you’re in. But if the U.S. loses to Germany, U.S. fans will be sweating out the end of Portugal-Ghana match.
By the way, Nate Silver's FIveThirtyEight.com's model is giving the U.S. a 76 percent chance of advancing to the round of 16 and a 37 percent chance of making it to the round of eight.