Listen up, USMNT, Argentina: There are still many ways to get out of World Cup group | Opinion




DOHA, Qatar - Welcome fans of the U.S. men and Wales. It's going to be a bit crowded because we didn't expect the Argentina contingent to be joining us, but we'll make do.

Your first game at the World Cup didn't go quite as planned. Or at all as planned for Lionel Messi and the Albiceleste. But fear not. There's still a path out of the group - to the final even! - and one bad result doesn't necessarily have to derail your entire World Cup.

I know you know this, but it's worth repeating: The top two teams in each group after three games advance to the knockout rounds. Yes, whether you win the group or finish second plays a role in your title hopes but, for now, let's just worry on getting out of the group.

Salvaging a draw was huge for both the USMNT and Wales. England was already the favorite to win Group B, and nothing in its 6-2 thrashing of Iran earlier Monday did anything to change that. Plus, the goalapalooza sets them up well should goal differential be needed to break a tie.

"At this level, goals are difficult - unless you're England," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said after Monday night's 1-1 draw with Wales. "All the other teams, goals are pretty difficult."

The USMNT's path to the knockout rounds is pretty straightforward: Beat England.

USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams controls the ball against Wales during the second half of Monday
USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams controls the ball against Wales during the second half of Monday's game.  

I know, I know. The Americans haven't beaten a European team at the World Cup since 2002, when their victory over Portugal in their opener kickstarted a glorious run to the quarterfinals. Before that, it was the stunning upset over England in 1950 that was so improbable some folks assumed the scoreline was wrong.

But stranger things have happened -- including at this tournament already. Sorry, Argentina, not trying to rub it in.

"I wouldn't be in this business if I didn't think I could beat whoever I'm on the pitch against," U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner said.

A win over England would give the Americans four points, which has been enough to advance a little over 50 percent of the time in previous World Cups, according to Paul Carr, TruMedia World Cup researcher. Picking up another point, or three, in the group final against Iran would seal it.

Drawing against England would mean the USMNT would likely have to beat Iran on Tuesday. Though that's also dependent on what happens in the Wales-Iran game earlier Friday, and the USMNT will have the benefit of knowing that result before it kicks off against England.

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And if the USMNT loses to England? It can still go through with a win over Iran - it would have four points -- so long as Wales doesn't beat both England and Iran, which would give The Dragons seven points. Or beat one team and draw against the other, which would give Wales five points.

"It was always going to be a tough game against England," Berhalter said. "It was never going to change based on what happened tonight. It was always going to be a difficult game. It's a very good team, very experienced squad in international competition, high quality. Now they're getting into form and we're going to have to give it our best shot.

"A point in the first game isn't the end of the world and you just keep going," Berhalter added. "You focus on the next game and try to win the next game."

For what it's worth, Carr said FiveThirtyEight gives the USMNT a 45 percent chance of advancing and Wales a 37 percent chance.

"Absolutely I think we have a good enough team to make it out of this group," Christian Pulisic said.

Now, as for Argentina. Go ahead, have a good cry, eat your feelings and do whatever else you need to do to forget about that 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, perhaps the biggest upset in World Cup history.

"The truth? Dead," Messi said afterward. "It's a very hard blow because we did not expect to start in this way."

Nobody on the planet did. Messi is the best there's ever been - don't at me, Pele and Ronaldo fans - and Argentina came in riding a 36-game unbeaten streak. Argentina wasn't just a favorite to win its group, it was a favorite to win the World Cup!

"We are facing two finals now," Argentina's Lautaro Martinez said.

I know it seems like a tall ask, but remember that Spain lost its first game in 2010 and things turned out pretty well for Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta and Co.

OK, now that we've got all that sorted out, we'd appreciate if you could clear the room. A sponsor discovered after they arrived that they'd overpacked, and we need to store some of their cases.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Cup group standings still may favor Argentina, USMNT to advance

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