If the United States showed Sunday that sometimes a draw can feel like a loss, Thursday the Americans showed a loss can sometimes be a victory.
It's not the 1-0 defeat to Germany on Thursday that matters; it's all three Group G games. Over the course of these three World Cup games, the United States showed it deserved to advance from the so-called Group of Death.
The Americans believed, and their belief was rewarded.
You can stop chewing your nails, turn off the motor in your leg, whatever nervous habits you have. At least for a few days.
The U.S. players earned the right to celebrate on the field after the Germany game because they defeated Ghana and tied Portugal. The United States goes on and Portugal goes home because the Americans only lost to mighty Germany by 1 goal and Portugal, ranked No. 4 in the world by FIFA, lost 4-0 to Germany.
"In the end we did enough, I guess, to get through," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey told ESPN.
Now the Americans can focus on one game and one opponent.
The United States will play Belgium, the winner of Group H, on Tuesday at 3 p.m. (ESPN). The United States lost to Belgium 4-2 last year in a friendly in Cleveland, but that game means nothing now.
Belgium will be tough to beat, but not as difficult as Germany. There's nothing about Belgium that will make the Americans lose their belief; they can handle being an underdog again.
The World Cup is not just about who has the best team. It is an endurance test. It is a test of character, especially in the group stage.
They have room for improvement, but they passed this first test with flying colors of red, white and blue.
"We have to do better in the Round of 16," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the game, "and we will do better."
The United States always knew the third game of their group would be the toughest.
They didn't see much possession, something they'll have to fix again, but credit Germany and blame some tired American legs after playing on short rest -- Germany had an extra day to recover from its second game.
The Americans' set pieces weren't as dangerous around the German goal as they needed to be. That will have to improve if they want to beat Belgium.
"We still have a little bit left in us," goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
Despite the goal by Germany, Howard was fantastic, as was the defense for the United States, especially surprise starter Omar Gonzalez.
The Americans will have company from some old rivals in the Round of 16. Costa Rica and Mexico -- which wouldn't have been in Brazil if not for help in qualifying from the United States -- also go through, showing the strength of their region, CONCACAF.
The United States is in the Round of 16 for the second World Cup in a row. That's a first for the Americans.
Progress doesn't come easily, and it doesn't always come in a straight, neat line. But the United States is progressing.
On to the knockout stage.
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