Insta-reaction from 90 riveting, thrilling, anguishing, joyous minutes for the United States ...

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The recipe for a vital victory:

One flash of first-minute brilliance from Clint Dempsey, another from John Brooks in the 86th, and otherwise hold on for group stage life and take a momentous step toward the knockout round.

Down went Jozy Altidore ...

Down went Matt Besler ...

And yet, somehow, the U.S. held on for the 2-1 victory despite Ghana's near-complete control of possession for the final 80 minutes.

The back line was under constant assault but held up reasonably well, thanks largely to Geoff Cameron in the middle.

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Dempsey's goal came at 34 seconds and was the sixth-fastest in World Cup history.

Brooks' goal was the first scored by a U.S. substitute in World Cup history ... in only his fifth appearance for the national team.

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My three stars for the U.S.:

1. Cameron

2. Dempsey

3. Brooks

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Watching all the issues with cramping, injuries and exhaustion -- the game was played on the coast, not in the jungle -- I kept thinking:

Will the U.S. have anyone left for the knockout round, if it gets that far?

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As for the big picture ...

The USMNT couldn't have asked for a better result in the other Group G match, a dominant performance by Germany and unmitigated meltdown for Portugal:

1. Portugal not only looked immensely vulnerable in the 4-0 loss, with Nani playing poorly and Cristiano Ronaldo ineffective.


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It also lost experienced central defender Pepe to a red card -- he won't be available against the U.S. — and was hit hard by injuries in its worst World Cup loss ever.

2. The final score could prove significant in the event the U.S. and Portugal end up tied for second place in the Group, where advancement is determined by goal differential.

3. It's worth repeating what we noted last week: The USMNT's best chance to advance to the knockout round is for Germany to dominate its first two matches (Portugal and Ghana) and have the group locked up before facing the United States on June 26.

In that scenario, the Germans might downshift into neutral against the U.S. and possibly rest several starters, thereby increasing the chances for the U.S. to earn a point or keep the goal differential in the necessary range.