RECIFE, Brazil — They heard about people back home watching during their lunch breaks, streaming on office computers or playing hooky with fellow fans. And then, as the bus pulled away from the hotel Thursday, the U.S. World Cup team was struck with an unusual sight.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of fans in red, white and blue, walking for miles around stalled cars through nearly hip-high water along streets and highways, making their way to the stadium to cheer them on.
“That kind of passion to root us on is what really helps drive us,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “Now, we give them another game to go to.”
No dramatic late goals in this one. Not even a win. But despite a 1-0 loss to Germany, the United States was good enough to advance to the knockout stage of consecutive World Cups for the first time, and good enough to hold onto the national attention that soccer has finally grabbed in America.
“I’m getting emails from people who work at companies where the executives have called a three-hour break and put on giant screens,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. “All of this . . . is pretty extraordinary, and that will build for the next few days.”
Thomas Mueller scored off a rebound in the 55th minute to give Germany first place in Group C with seven points, but the Americans held onto second when Portugal defeated Ghana, 2-1, in a game played simultaneously in Brasilia.
Two minutes after Mueller’s goal, Asamoah Gyan tied the score for Ghana, leaving the Black Stars one goal from tying the U.S. with four points and moving ahead on the second tiebreaker, goals scored. But then Cristiano Ronaldo put the Portuguese back ahead in the 80th, giving the Americans a little margin for error.
On the sideline, U.S. goalkeeper coach Chris Woods used his fingers to signal “2-1” to goalkeeper Tim Howard. But Howard was unsure which team was ahead.
“Then, Woods gave the thumbs up — in our favor,” Howard said.
Around the same time, the American fans behind the goal defended by Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer started cheering, having learned of Ronaldo’s goal from whatever electronic device they had brought along.
“Kind of calmed me down the last five minutes a little bit,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
Portugal opened with a 4-0 loss to Germany and tied the U.S., 2-2, Sunday with a 95th-minute goal, so the U.S. had an even goal difference while the Portuguese were at -3.
The Americans advance to a round of 16 game Tuesday in Salvador against Belgium.
The U.S. started celebrating at the final whistle, 30 seconds before the other game ended. The script was similar to that of 2002, when the U.S. opened with a 3-2 win over Portugal, then tied South Korea, 1-1, and lost to Poland, 3-0. The Americans advanced 12 years ago because South Korea defeated the Portuguese on an 80th-minute goal.
Last weekend’s game was seen by 24.7 million viewers on ESPN and Univision, and with online viewers included it was the most-watched soccer match in American history. This game kicked off at noon EDT, and ESPN said its online streaming application set a record with 1.7 million concurrent users for all programs.
Because of the heavy rain, the Americans’ bus trip to the stadium took 50 minutes, twice the time it took to reach Saturday’s training session. And because of the downpour, both teams weren’t allowed to warm up on the field.
Some of the players’ family and friends stayed at their hotel. Others’ vehicles couldn’t reach Arena Pernambuco, where rain fell throughout much of the game and there were scattered empty red seats.
U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said it was “in the back of your mind about your family not being able to make it to the game because of the traffic and everything, you just want to make sure that they’re safe.”
Germany scored when Mesut Ozil took a short corner kick, received a pass back and crossed to Per Mertesacker. His header was parried by Howard into the path of Mueller, who curled a right-footed shot from 18 yards inside the far post.
Germany had 63 percent possession, and had nine shots on goal to one for the U.S.
Klinsmann hugged Germany coach Joachim Loew — his assistant coach on Germany’s 2006 World Cup team — and Brad Davis raised both hands after the final whistle and led the applauding U.S. team to the side of the stadium where the majority of American supporters sat.
The victory was especially satisfying for a pair of American players: midfielder Jermaine Jones played three games for Germany in 2008 before switching allegiances, and right back Fabian Johnson started for Germany in the 2009 European Under-21 Championship final.
Jones thought back to a Times Square rally last month when former national team players Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman, now ESPN broadcasters, predicted the Americans would not advance.
“We showed some people,” he said, “people that were talking like we have no chance to come through to the next round.”
Portugal 2, Ghana 1
BRASILIA, Brazil — Cristiano Ronaldo’s first goal of the tournament earned Portugal a win over Ghana but couldn’t prevent his team being eliminated, along with the Africans.
Ronaldo slammed in the winner with his left foot in the 80th minute to break his drought in Brazil and give Portugal its first win.
“We knew we had to score three goals and were depending on the result of the Germany game, and we couldn’t do that,” Ronaldo said after his most lively performance of the tournament.
“We deserved more, but that’s football. We are leaving with our heads held high.”
Ronaldo barely celebrated after slamming home his goal with his left foot, giving Portugal its first win after a 4-0 loss to Germany and 2-2 draw with the U.S.
By that time, the Portuguese still needed a three-goal swing to move above the Americans, and even though Ronaldo was presented with two more great chances in injury time at Estadio Nacional, his team was always going to fall short.
“We created many opportunities but we could not finish them,” said Ronaldo, who was voted man of the match in a bittersweet ending to the World Cup.
South Korea 0
SAO PAULO — Defender Jan Vertonghen scored from a rebound in the 78th minute to give 10-man Belgium a victory over South Korea to clinch top spot in Group H.
It was Belgium’s third straight victory of the group stage,
South Korea was eliminated with the loss — joining the other three Asian nations at the tournament.
Algeria 1, Russia 1
CURITIBA, Brazil — Algeria qualifier for the knockout stage for the first time after Islam Slimani’s headed equalizer gave his team a draw against Russia.
Algeria placed second in Group H behind Belgium, meaning it will meet Germany in the second round.
Russia needed a win to advance to the next stage.