Monday, June 23, 2014

Dear Germany

In the 1982 World Cup, West Germany and Austria had a situation on their hands. They were in Group 2- groups had numbers instead of letters back then- alongside Chile and Algeria. Unlike today, in 1982 the last games of group matches were not played simultaneously, and Chile and Algeria had already played the previous day, with Algeria winning 3-2 and eliminating Chile. The way the points had fallen, the situation for Austria and West Germany was thus:

*If Austria won or tied, they would advance alongside Algeria.
*If West Germany won by three or more goals, they would advance alongside Algeria.
*If West Germany won by one or two goals, Austria and West Germany would advance together.

In the 10th minute, Horst Hrubrech of West Germany opened the scoring. He also closed the scoring. With West Germany up by one, both teams were assured of advancement. It would mean Austria would lose out on first place in the group- and, as it turned out, place them in a second-round group with France and Northern Ireland instead of England and host Spain, which West Germany got- but they didn't mind, and really, they might have actually preferred. So the last 80 minutes of the game were completely and deliberately uneventful.

Well, they were on the field, anyway. Off the field, everyone that wasn't the Austrian or West German players were disgusted. The West German commentator just stopped commentating. The Austrian commentator told viewers to change the channel. The poor bastards from Algeria who happened to be in the stands started waving Spanish pesetas, claiming match-fixing. Which of course it was, but given that the two were, at the end of the day, still working towards the end goal of advancing in the Cup and merely looking at the standings instead of the scoreboard, no action was taken against them by FIFA. FIFA did, however, mandate that the last matches of group stages would take place alongside each other, so that teams wouldn't have enough information going into the match to game a particular mutually-beneficial result. (The Algerian team, meanwhile, was philosophical about the incident, saying that at least they'd played with honor while Austria and West Germany disgraced themselves.)

Enter the 2014 World Cup, Group G. After two games apiece, the standings are such: Germany and the United States have 4 points each, with Germany three goals better on goal differential. Portugal and Ghana have 1 point each, with Ghana three goals better on goal differential (and two back on the United States).

Portugal faces Ghana, while Germany plays the United States. Should Portugal and Ghana draw, they eliminate each other, as 2 points isn't enough; for either to have any chance, they must defeat the other, and then win by enough goals to make up any differential that might separate them from the loser of United States/Germany.

But suppose the United States and Germany don't produce a loser. Should they draw, they'll have 5 points each, putting them both through and handing Germany the group win. This kind of sinister information is exactly the kind of thing that simultaneous group games was created to keep teams from finding out- even now, if one game ends before the other due to stoppage time, and the current scores will put the later finishers through, odds are the later finishers will immediately lose interest in doing anything else that day. The only reason this didn't become the fate of the Brazil/Portugal match in South Africa's Group G was that the group winner had the luxury of avoiding presumed-and-actual group winner Spain in the round of 16 and getting Switzerland or Chile instead (Chile, as it turned out). It was still a scoreless draw and they lost interest in the last few minutes, but they at least cared enough to foul each other 29 times and rack up seven yellow cards.

The winner of Group G this year will, presumably, merely avoid facing Belgium in the round of 16, with the runner-up getting Algeria, Russia or South Korea (right now Algeria leads the three). Belgium isn't nearly as scary, having struggled to get wins against Algeria and Russia.

If you, Germany, are willing to potentially have to explain yourselves to a doubly-irate Algeria in the round of 16, I think we'd be fine with playing Belgium, even if we did lose to them 4-2 in Cleveland last year (four days before beating you 4-3 in Washington DC). And even if the last time we played South Korea was on February 1, where we beat them 2-0 in Carson, CA; we last played Russia in Krasnodar in 2012, tying 2-2; and we've only played Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, beating them 1-0. Long story short, recent results against Group H say we're better off trying to beat you, but Belgium looks at least beatable enough to us that we've got a lot of fans here saying we should go ahead, pull the old Algerian Shuffle, and just be happy we're advancing at all.

Now, I realize we're not exactly a popular soccer team outside our own country, never mind within it. According to a New York Times survey, we're one of if not the most hated team in the field. In fact, America is the most hated team in the field even when you're asking Americans. So okay, we're the heel. Guess what? We play heel well around here.

Let me show you American-style entertainment.

The guy driving the beer truck and spraying down the owner of the company? That's the good guy.

We may have to have some explaining to do to the soccer-is-boring crowd around here as to why this match is deliberately boring, but we'll get over it. As long as we advance- the end goal, after all- and give the crowd a more entertaining showing against Belgium. Germany, you don't have to score, you don't have to do a thing to win the group, at least not this time. You've proven you're willing. Is it honorable? Hell no. Distasteful to be sure, and American honor says never back down from a fight. And I'm sure we'll have a nice long debate about how to approach the game; I can see it's already starting. Not for no reason; aside from honor, a win would still improve our situation past what a draw would provide. I suppose it may come down to how you want to approach the match; whether you're happy with the current standings or whether you're looking to potentially take someone else into the next round instead of us. In which case, I think we'd be happy to go after you in kind; we're not ones to half-ass a game anyway and of course you'd never say you'd do that during a pregame press conference. But given the circumstances...

...we may have to sleep on it. What are you looking to do?

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