Silvestre Varela of Portugal scores his team's second goal as goalkeeper Tim Howard of the United States looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between the United States and Portugal at Arena Amazonia on June 22, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
The U.S. team will advance if ...
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Team USA faces Germany in the final group game on Thursday

A win or a tie would be enough to take the U.S. to the knockout stages

A defeat would mean the team's fate rests on the result of the Portugal-Ghana game

CNN  — 

The U.S. team took to the field for its clash against Portugal with these words inscribed on its jersey patches:

“The American will to win is stronger than any opponent in your way.”

For 94 minutes on Sunday, they persevered. They were down, then they equalized, then they led.

But, with mere seconds to go, Team USA’s dogged determination was torpedoed by a header from Silvestre Varela.

What seemed like a sure win ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw.

“A draw is just blah,” U.S. goalie Tim Howard said.

Now, the U.S. team will have to find steelier resolve for its next contest, against soccer powerhouse Germany on Thursday.

A lot rides on that game, if the U.S. wants to advance to the next round.

But before we get to that, let’s look back at the drama and emotion of Sunday’s spectacle.

Cheers, then silence

From Arkansas to Alaska, American fans had flocked to Brazil. Some made it all the way to the jungle heat of Manaus where the game took place; others joined a crowd of about 20,000 people gathered in front of a big screen in Rio de Janeiro, chanting their belief in an American victory.

Back at home, bars and streets were packed with people – an unusual sight in a country that is ordinarily indifferent to soccer.

“What’s for dinner? Portugal,” an oft-repeated joke went.

Portugal netted the ball first. If one were to go by history, that would have been disastrous. In 20 games, the U.S. has never recovered when the opposing team scored the first goal.

But then, Jermaine Jones thumped in a stunning long-range shot to bring the score to 1-1. The noise was deafening.

And when Clint Dempsey put the United States ahead 2-1, cheers erupted even on a flight from Los Angeles to New York.

All the U.S. had to do next was bide time – keep possession of the ball, keep an increasingly desperate Portugal at bay.

They did – until the end of the game and for four of the five minutes of stoppage time.

But Varela’s crushing late equalizer – headed in from a pinpoint cross by Portugal’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo – stunned the U.S. supporters.

But shock soon turned to grudging satisfaction.

A tie isn’t as bad as a defeat.

After all, Portugal is ranked No. 4 in the world; the U.S. No. 13.

A tie also gives another point for the U.S., moving it closer to qualifying for the knockout stages.

‘You have to move on’

The team captain certainly wasn’t dwelling on the Portugal game’s cruel finale.

“You’re disappointed not to get three points but at the same time you have to take the positives from the game,” Dempsey said.

The team now has its sights set firmly on Germany.

That confrontation is an intriguing one for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who played for the German team that won the World Cup in 1990. But he didn’t show any conflicted loyalties in his comments Sunday.

“We have one day less to recover. They played yesterday, we played today,” he told ESPN. “We played in the Amazon, and they played in the very kind of location where they don’t have to travel much. Everything was done for the big favorites to go and move on. We have to do it the tough way, but we’re going to do it the tough way.”

Win or tie enough

The key question for American fans is what their team has to do to get through to the next round.

The good news is that the U.S. players have their fate in their own hands: a win or a tie would be enough to see them through.

A victory against Germany on Thursday, unlikely but not impossible, would put the United States top of the group with seven points.

A tie would also be good enough to qualify, leaving Team USA second on five points, level with Germany, which would finish top because of a better goal difference.

… but a loss?

In the event of a German win, things get a lot more complicated, but not necessarily catastrophic for the Americans.

If Portugal and Ghana tie, the United States would stay in second place on four points. (Portugal and Ghana only have one point each at the moment.)

If Ronaldo leads Portugal to victory, it would pull level with the United States. At that point, it would all depend on goal difference.

The Americans currently have scored one more goal than they have conceded. The Portuguese, meanwhile, have let in four more goals than they’ve scored.

Portugal would need a big victory or an especially heavy U.S. defeat to tip the goal difference to their advantage.

‘We have to make it’

If Ghana beats Portugal, the margins are a lot slimmer. Ghana currently has a negative goal difference of just one.

So if Ghana wins by more than one goal, and the United States loses by one or more goals, Ghana would snatch second place.

It’s all complicated math.

But Klinsmann appears determined to make sure there isn’t a need for it.

“So we didn’t make it quite yet,” he told ESPN. “We have to make it against Germany.”

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CNN’s Chris Cuomo contributed to this report.