RECIFE, Brazil – Germany’s Thomas Mueller stayed on track to retain his Golden Boot title at the World Cup by scoring his fourth goal of the tournament in the 1-0 victory over the United States.
U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann wasn’t too upset. His team also qualified for the knockout stage after Portugal beat Ghana 2-1 in the other final match in Group G, which saw both teams eliminated.
Mueller scored five times in South Africa in 2010 and scored his fourth Friday in a rain-soaked Recife.
With two wins and a draw, Germany topped the group with seven points, while the United States progressed with four. Portugal also finished with four points but the United States had a better goal difference.
“We controlled the match and did not allow any chances until late in the match,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “We failed to score a second goal that would have settled the issue earlier.”
Mueller scored in the 55th minute with a side-footed shot from the edge of the area as tropical downpours drenched the Arena Pernambuco. He now has nine goals in nine World Cup games.
“We clearly dominated the match and we played not a bad game against a top-fit American team,” Mueller said. “I finally scored a pretty goal. I manage it every now and then. We still have big targets ahead of us.”
Germany, a three-time champion, now travels to Porto Alegre to play the runner-up in Group H June 30.
Both teams knew before kickoff that a draw would see them through, but neither held back. The game pitted Loew against his good friend and predecessor Juergen Klinsmann, now in charge of the U.S. team.
“That is a tough group and the Americans were a bit the outsiders. Everybody considered Portugal a favorite to make it. … (The Americans) really have qualities, they fight, they can run and they really are tough on the opponent,” Loew said. “If you beat Ghana, play a draw against Portugal, I think you deserve to make it to the next round.”
The two coaches smiled as they shook hands and patted each other on the shoulder after the match. Klinsmann warmly embraced the German players.
“It’s a good feeling because now it’s really just a clear picture for everyone. Just focus on that one opponent you have for that next game. … We’ll just talk about one team to beat at a time and this is why I’m really excited” about this next phase, Klinsmann said.
Germany’s goal came after a corner by Mesut Ozil. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard did well to punch out a header by Per Mertesacker but pushed the ball into the path of Mueller who rifled a shot inside the far post from the edge of the penalty area.
Mueller played despite needing five stiches to close a cut above his right eye sustained in the 2-2 draw with Ghana Saturday and was still visible five days later.
The United States had a chance to level the match in stoppage time, but Alejandro Bedoya’s low shot inside the box was swept away by the sliding Mario Goetze, a late substitute. The Americans won a corner but Clint Dempsey’s header at the far post went high.
Loew reshuffled his lineup by bringing in forward Lukas Podolski for Goetze and midfielder Sebastian Schweinsteiger for Sami Khedira. Center back Geoff Cameron was replaced in the U.S. lineup by Omar Gonzalez.
There were many empty seats in the Arena Pernambuco when the match kicked off but fans streamed in during the first half, apparently delayed by traffic jams as torrential rain flooded parts of this northeastern Brazilian city.
“It was a bizarre day. We woke up and felt like there was a hurricane last night,” U.S. defender Matt Beasler said. “We’re driving in and our bus takes 50 minutes instead of 25. We’re seeing half the town in water and we get to the stadium and we find out that we’re not allowed to warm up on the field.”
Germany was quicker off the mark and Howard intercepted a low cross from Podolski before Michael Bradley made a good clearance and Gonzalez defended well to deny Mueller a shot from close range. Howard’s 103th cap was a record for a U.S. goalkeeper and he did well to stop Ozil’s shot in the 35th minute.
Graham Zusi had the first good shot for the United States, but his effort in the 22nd went high.
Referee Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan collided accidentally with Jermaine Jones in the 28th and the American midfielder went down hard but got up. The referee shrugged off the challenge.
Miroslav Klose came on for Podolski at the start of the second half but failed to score and grab sole possession of the World Cup scoring record that he now shares with Brazil’s Ronaldo at 15.
Ozil beat Gonzalez to a cross at the start of the second half but sent his header high, while Klose connected with a cross from Schweinsteiger but was off balance and did not get off a clean header.