(SportsNetwork.com) - Raise your hand if you had the intestinal fortitude to pick the United States to advance out of Group G based on something other than blind optimism or patriotism.
Yeah, me either.
Often times, whether a nation advances to the round of 16 depends on the difficulty on their group draw, and Jurgen Klinsmann's men received what could have been perceived as the worst possible draw.
Ghana, Portugal, Germany, the dreaded "Group of Death."
For months leading up to the kickoff of this World Cup, Klinsmann said publicly on numerous occasions that if the Americans had any chance of advancing, they needed to beat Ghana, the U.S.'s bogey team, which knocked them out of each of the past two World Cups.
But with Clint Dempsey's strike just 34 seconds into its opening match against Ghana in Natal, the U.S. was off and running, firing a warning shot to the rest of the group that the U.S. wasn't intimidated and they meant business.
Ghana's Andre Ayew later equalized, and it looked like a potential knockout blow for the Americans' knockout round hopes, but then came the unlikeliest of heroes, defender John Anthony Brooks, who nodded Graham Zusi's corner kick home, and became the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln.
At least according to some creative Wikipedia editing.
The win allowed Klinsmann's team to exorcise some major demons, while simultaneously getting off on the right foot and bagging some confidence.
The second match against a wounded Portugal offered the Americans a chance to clinch a spot with a win, and things looked good after second-half goals from Jermaine Jones and Dempsey put the U.S. ahead 2-1 with nine minutes to play. But Cristiano Ronaldo only needs one opportunity to strike and he did that in stoppage time with the assist on Silvestre Varela's heartbreaking equalizer.
Was it an opportunity lost? Absolutely, but the U.S. was still in a good position to advance, needing just a draw against Germany to reach the round of 16.
With Germany also needing a draw to get through, rumors mounted that both sides could "take it easy" and just go through the motions for 90 minutes to allow both teams to advance.
But the Germans proved early on Thursday that they meant business and had no intention of simply allowing the Americans to waltz into the next round; they would surely have to earn it.
Coming off a draining affair in the heart of the Amazon jungle, the U.S. was certainly heavy-legged against a finely-tuned German machine that seemed intent on sticking it to their countryman, Klinsmann, who guided the Germans to the World Cup title as a player in 1990 and a third-place finish as manager in 2006.
The Germans were the better side throughout the 90 minutes, keeping most of the possession and forcing the U.S. to chase the game.
The breakthrough goal came in the 55th minute through Bayern Munich man Thomas Muller, who rocketed a strike past U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard.
It was a deserved goal for Germany, which finally got its reward for dominating the match, sentiments echoed by Muller and German manager Joachim Low.
"We started strongly and showed who was boss straight away," Muller commented.
"We were well organized today and dominated the match. We didn't let USA have a chance on our goal right up to the final whistle," Low said after the match. "We were strong in midfield and that's where we put them under pressure."
Low is correct that his German side dominated the middle of the park, making Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman chase and foul relentlessly, particularly as the U.S. pair took their frustration out on Bastian Schweinsteiger, who looked surprised he was able to walk off the field when he was subbed off in the 76th minute.
As the second half wore on, the Americans energy continued to drain and it was increasingly unlikely that they would beat German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Luckily for Klinsmann and co. Ghana collapsed, losing 2-1 to Portugal, which allowed the U.S. to back its way into the next round.
It definitely wasn't the way we all envisioned the Stars and Stripes moving on and it wasn't easy, but it's job done nonetheless.