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Germany’s Draw Didn’t Help the U.S.
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Thomas Mueller of Germany reacts after a collision as Harrison Afful of Ghana looks on during their 2-2 draw Saturday in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Xavier Marit / Getty Images

Germany drew Ghana 2-2 on Saturday in one of the most exciting matches of the World Cup. The result has some tricky effects for the United States, which will play Portugal in Manaus, Brazil, on Sunday. It increases the chance that the U.S. will finish first in Group G — that probability is now 20 percent, compared with 11 percent before the match. However, it slightly reduces the Americans’ overall chances of advancing. Those odds are down to 64 percent from 69 percent before.

The reason is a bit technical. One of the likelier outcomes for the Americans is to finish with four points in the group by drawing Portugal or Germany but losing the other match. If Ghana had lost to Germany, it would have finished with three points at best. Now, however, Ghana could also finish with four points if it beats Portugal, potentially denying the U.S. advancement if the teams finish in a tie for second.

Let’s update our earlier assessment of the nine potential scenarios for the Americans:

Beat Portugal, beat Germany. The U.S. advances as the first-place team from Group G.

Beat Portugal, draw Germany. This also guarantees the U.S. first place. (If Germany had beaten Ghana, this would have meant a first-place tie instead.)

Beat Portugal, lose to Germany. The U.S. advances as the second-place team from Group G. (Previously, there was an outside chance that the U.S. could have failed to advance despite accumulating two wins in the group, but this possibility was eliminated by Saturday’s draw.)

Draw Portugal, beat Germany. The U.S. advances in first place.

Draw Portugal, draw Germany. The U.S. and Germany tie atop the group with five points, but Germany gets the first position on the basis of goal differential. The U.S. advances as the second team from Group G instead.

Draw Portugal, lose to Germany. This outcome depends on the result of the Portugal-Ghana match:

  • If Portugal beats Ghana, the U.S. and Portugal tie for second. The U.S. is favored (although not guaranteed) to advance based on goal differential because Portugal’s 4-0 loss against Germany could come back to haunt it.
  • If Ghana beats Portugal, the U.S. and Ghana tie for second. This is a more dangerous case for the United States. For example, if it loses to Germany by more than one goal, or Ghana beats Portugal by more than one goal, the U.S. will lose the tiebreaker to Ghana. It also doesn’t help the U.S. that Ghana’s match against Germany was high-scoring because FIFA’s second tiebreaker is based on the number of goals scored. For example, if the U.S. draws Portugal 1-1, loses to Germany 1-0, and Ghana beats Portugal 1-0, then the U.S. and Ghana will have even goal differentials. But Ghana will have four goals scored to the Americans’ three and Ghana will advance.
  • If Portugal draws Ghana, the U.S. finishes in sole possession of second place and advances.

Lose to Portugal, beat Germany. The U.S. advances, probably as the first-place team, although Portugal could knock the U.S. into second if it also beats Ghana and makes up its lopsided goal differential.

Lose to Portugal, draw Germany. This isn’t such a favorable outcome for the Americans, but it depends on what happens between Portugal and Ghana.

  • If Portugal beats Ghana, the U.S. finishes third in the group and is out of the World Cup.
  • If Portugal draws Ghana, the U.S. finishes tied for second with Portugal. The U.S. would advance on goal differential if its loss to Portugal were by one or two goals; anything more lopsided, and Portugal goes through instead of the U.S.
  • If Ghana beats Portugal, the U.S. finishes tied for second with Ghana and it comes down to the tiebreaker.

Lose to Portugal, lose to Germany. The U.S. is out of the tournament. (Previously, there was an outside chance the U.S. could have advanced despite losing its remaining matches, but this possibility was eliminated by Saturday’s draw.)

None of this should radically change the Americans’ game plan for Sunday. A win puts it into the knockout round. A draw is still a reasonably good result, but slightly more dangerous than before because Ghana remains alive in the tournament.

CORRECTION (June 22, 9:47 p.m.): If Portugal beats the U.S. and draws Ghana, and the U.S. draws Germany, the U.S. advances to the knockout stage unless it loses to Portugal by three goals or more. An earlier version of this post described this scenario incorrectly by allowing for the possibility that Portugal both draws and beats Ghana in the group stage.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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