There won’t be friendly phone calls, there won’t be any dirty deals. That’s the promise from both sides ahead of Germany’s final Group G match against the United States.
A draw today in Recife would see both teams advance to the knockout stage at the expense of Portugal and Ghana, who play at the same time in Brasilia.
Both sides have been answering questions about a possible conspiracy, or as the Germans call it, a “non-aggression pact,” and both have sharply rejected any suggestions of a deal.
No wonder the questions are being asked, since the Germans were jointly responsible for one of the more shameful episodes in World Cup history. Germany scored after ten minutes against Austria at the 1982 World Cup in Gijon, Spain, and the two teams just knocked the ball around for the next 80 minutes since the outcome guaranteed a slot in the next round for both. It also eliminated outsiders Algeria, who had stunned Germany 2-1 in their opening match.
After that match, Fifa made sure that final group matches are played simultaneously, to reduce the possibility of a “gentlemen’s agreement”.
Germany and the United States are linked in many ways. Five players on the US team have American fathers and German mothers, with four of them playing in the Bundesliga.
US coach Jürgen Klinsmann was a star of the Germany team that won the last of their three World Cups in 1990. He also scored when the two teams last met in the group stage of a World Cup, a 2-0 victory for Germany at the 1998 tournament in France.
In 2006 at home, Klinsmann guided Germany to a third-place finish as coach, with assistant Joachim Löw, who is now Germany’s coach. Berti Vogts, the former Scotland manager, is one of Klinsmann’s staff and was the coach of Germany when they won their last title, the 1996 European Championship.
Löw and Klinsmann remain good friends, but Löw has said he would not be talking to Klinsmann during the tournament.
Klinsmann too has dismissed any collusion.
“I don’t think that we are made for draws, really, except if it happens like tonight two late goals, last seconds,” Klinsmann said after his team’s 2-2 draw with Portugal, which scored deep into stoppage time. “I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group.”
“You’re talking about a game [in Gijon] that is decades away that is only part of the Germany history and not the United States,” Klinsmann said. “The United States is known to give everything they have in every single game. We have that fighting spirit. We have that energy and that determination to do well in every single game.”
The German camp was equally indignant about any suggestions of a fix.
“It would be highly unsportsmanlike and unfair to other teams if anyone on the pitch had such thoughts,” defender Mats Hummels said. Assistant coach Hansi Flick said Germany “wanted to win the match and finish first in the group”.
Germany and the United States both have four points, while Ghana and Portugal have one each. Both Germany and the US could even afford to lose and still advance, depending on the outcome of the other match. Germany have an edge because of their superior goal difference (+4) over the Americans (+1).
Hummels said he was surprised by the quality of the US.
“They are playing a very good tournament. I did not expect them to be so strong. They beat us last year 4-3 [in a friendly] and clearly they are a good team,” Hummels said.