Here’s What Needs to Happen on Sunday to Really Help America’s World Cup Chances (and It’s Not Necessarily a U.S. Win)

U.S. soccer fans are used to getting “good news, bad news” reports.

Monday was a rare case of “good news, great news” — and Sunday holds a golden opportunity.

The U.S. defeated Ghana in a close World Cup match Monday night, starting with a record-setting goal less than a minute into the game; playing defense for more than an hour; allowing a goal by Ghana in the 82nd minute; and then regaining the lead with John Brooks’ header four minutes later — the first time an American substitute has scored in a World Cup.

The United States’ John Brooks celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. The United States defeated Ghana 2-1. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Before the U.S. Men’s National Team took the field against Ghana, Germany trounced Portugal 4-0, producing many happy Germans and one very sad Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portugal’s loss is America’s gain.

Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States are all in this World Cup’s “Group of Death,” so named because the four teams in the group are all highly competitive, but due to tournament rules, only two teams will survive the group.

Before Monday’s games, odds were that Germany would take the top spot in the group, while Portugal was a slight favorite for second place.

Now, the U.S. has more than a fighting chance.

Based on Monday’s games, stats site FiveThirtyEight nearly doubled America’s estimated chance of surviving the group stage from a measly 33 percent to a healthy 63 percent.

“[America’s win], coupled with Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, makes the U.S. slight favorites to advance to the knockout stage,” wrote FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.

Gamblers have taken note of Monday’s games as well, with’s betting odds now reflecting the U.S. as a favorite to survive Group G.

In the group stage, teams earn points for each performance: three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero for a loss.

The United States’ Clint Dempsey leaps as he celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

In the event of a tie in points after all the teams have played one another, the tie-breaker will come down to a goal differential.

The way things stand, Germany and the U.S. each have three points, while Ghana and Portugal both have none — and Portugal’s allowed four goals, putting them at a massive disadvantage in the case of a tie.

Here’s how FiveThirtyEight’s Silver broke down the possibilities going forward.

  • Win twice, advance to the knockout stage.
  • Win once and draw once, advance.
  • Draw twice, advance.
  • Win once and lose once, almost certainly advance (there’s one highly unlikely mathematical exception).
  • Lose twice, and almost certainly go out (there’s one highly unlikely mathematical exception).
  • Draw once and lose once, and it gets complicated. It’s considerably better for the U.S. to draw against Portugal and lose to Germany than the other way around.

Because the U.S. nabbed a win against Ghana, and because Portugal lost by a wide margin to Germany while a star Portuguese player went and got himself red-carded , the math now favors the U.S. Men’s National Team advancing — even if we lose the next two games (though that’s considered highly unlikely).

And when the long shot U.S. team plays Portugal on Sunday, they’ll have one way to virtually guarantee they advance: win or draw, just don’t lose.

This story has been updated.

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter