The US must beat Ghana on Thursday or we go home hanging our heads in shame. If we beat Ghana a couple of other things must happen. The best case scenario would be a win against Ghana with Italy beating the Czech Republic; which would leave Italy on top of Group E with us in second. Now is where it gets both interesting and disappointing. If the Italians lose they would be equal in points with us so the goal differential must favor the United States (i.e. we must beat Ghana by 1-5 goals depending upon how badly Italy loses; they have +2 we have -3) and the Czech Republic advances. If the Czech Republic and Italians tie, then Italy will advance winning Group E and the Czech Republic would be equal in points with us; taking it to goal differential (i.e. we must beat Ghana by five or more goals; they have +1 we have -3).
As you can probably tell it would make things much, much easier if Italy wins; at least until the next round. The runner-up (that would be us) in Group E plays the winner of Group F (that would be Brazil unless they somehow manage to totally puke their match against bottom dwelling Japan and the Australians just pulverize Croatia; chances of that happening are worse than the USA advancing).
It would be interesting to see a match-up against Brazil. The Brazilian central defense is frequently questioned even though they are pretty solid compared to the rest of the team full of vibrant, highly skilled players. The United States would have to have a solid, densely packed defense and midfield to stifle the fluid Brazilian attack. They would have to patient as well, like France was in the 1998 World Cup.
First things first though; we need to beat the team speed of Ghana. Like the United States, Ghana will have so key players out due to caution accumulations/ejections. The USA will be without Pablo Mastroeni (red carded vs. Italy) and Eddie Pope (two yellow cards and subsequent ejection vs. Italy). Although Pablo has merit I don't feel as strongly about Pope. Eddie Pope has been a rock for the USA for numerous international matches but all rocks eventually erode. He was beaten on the first goal for Italy and may have seen his last action for the national team. I have a feeling Brian McBride will not start against Ghana as well. There are a number of younger, hungrier players sitting on the bench that might be better options.
It should be an interesting match on Thursday. I have a bad feeling we won't have a repeat of 2002 where we slipped into the next round by the skin of our teeth. Knowing the World Cap and the "soccer gods" I vision a 1-1 or 0-0 tie in the ITA vs. CZE match leaving us short on goal differential with whatever we do against Ghana.
Crazier things have happened, though.