Doing The Math: How The U.S. Can Advance In The World Cup

Jun 23, 2014
Originally published on June 23, 2014 3:45 pm

The "Group of Death" is living up to its name.

Going into the third and final match of group stage, all four teams — the U.S., Germany, Ghana and Portugal — still have a mathematical chance of moving on to the round of 16.

Of course, the U.S. had a prime chance at sealing the deal last night against Portugal. But, as we told you, a last-gasp goal by Portugal scuttled those plans.

So, let's lay out the three scenarios (and a few sub-scenarios) that can play out for the U.S.:

-- A Win: Means the U.S. advances to the round of 16.

-- A Tie: Means both the U.S. and Germany advance.

-- A Loss: Here it gets complicated and where you have to start looking at goals scored. A spot goes to Germany. The U.S. would end up with 4 points. Right now, both Ghana and Portugal have 1 point.

If Ghana and Portugal tie, both the U.S. and Germany move ahead, no matter the score.

If Portugal wins, it would tie with the U.S. at 4 points a pop. In that case, we look at how many goals the team has scored and how many goals it has allowed. Portugal has a goal difference of -4; the U.S. has a goal difference of +1. This means, that even with a win, Portugal has to pummel Ghana to overcome that goal deficit and jump over the U.S.

Ghana has an easier path with a win, because, currently, it only has a goal deficit of -1. So, hypothetically, a 2-0 win by Ghana and a 2-0 loss by the United States would mean Ghana (now with a goal difference of +1) moves on and the United States (goal deficit of -1) comes back home.

There is a chance that after all is said and done, the U.S. may come up tied both in points and goal difference. In that case, FIFA will look at total goals scored during the group stage.

If that fails, FIFA then moves on to:

4) Points earned in the head-to-head group matches between the tied teams.
5) Goal difference from the head-to-head group matches between the tied teams.
6) Number of goals scored in the head-to-head group matches between the tied teams.

If there is still a tie after all of the above have been taken into consideration then the FIFA Organising Committee will settle the matter by a drawing of lots.

Bottom line: If you're for the red, white and blue, just hope they pull off a win or draw. If not, pull for a tie between Portugal and Ghana. If not, pull for a tight win by Portugal.

We'll leave you on a hopeful note. Nate Silver, the statistics guru at 538, says the U.S. has a 76 percent probability of advancing. Those are pretty good odds.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit