What Does the Word ‘Biscotto’ Mean to the US and Germany?

United States’ head coach Jurgen Klinsmann watches as his players stretch during a training session in Recife, Brazil, on Wednesday.
United States’ head coach Jurgen Klinsmann watches as his players stretch during a training session in Recife, Brazil, on Wednesday.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

It’s such a mutually beneficial, straightforward proposition that it ought to be a no-brainer: knock the ball around for 90 minutes, settle for a tie, and then we’ll both be through to the next round.

But neither the Germans nor the Americans—who play against each other for their final game of Group G on Thursday in Recife—want to play for a draw, even with Portugal and Ghana breathing down their necks.

The word from both the German and American training camps this week is that both sides are going for the win. That’s good news for Portugal and Ghana, who will be eliminated should the US and Germany tie. Their match will take place during the US’ clash with the Germans, nearly 1,300 miles away in Brasilia.

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And even though US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who coached his native Germany at the 2006 World Cup, and current Die Mannschaft coach Joachim Low have both stated that they’re sending their teams to win on Thursday, the threat of collusion has likely crossed the minds of Portugal and Ghana’s players.

The Italian—and yet seemingly universal—expression for collusion in soccer is “il biscotto.” What is normally the word for “cookie” or a common snack to go along with a hot beverage at Starbucks means in soccer lingo that two teams will purposefully play for a result that is mutually beneficial. If the US and Germany agree on a biscotto and tie, it wouldn’t matter how many goals Portugal and Ghana score in their game. They would both go home.

Both Portugal and Ghana’s best scenario is that Germany beat the US by multiple goals so they can jump into second place on goal differential. And normally, the Portuguese and Ghanaians could count on Germany to deliver a powerful knockout blow to the US. Germany have a 6-3-0 all-time record against the US, shutting them out three times since 1993.

But with the exception of some unforced errors, the US have been competitive against quality teams in Brazil. They are capable on Thursday of beating Germany, who strong yet not invincible despite their thorough 4-0 victory over Portugal in their opening game.

There is far too much at stake for both coaches to instruct their players to go for a tie. When Klinsmann left the managerial position with Germany after coaching them to a third place finish at the 2006 World Cup, reports surfaced that Low—his assistant at the time—was the real brains behind the outfit. The autobiography of German midfielder/defender Philipp Lahm “The Subtle Difference – How to Become a Top Footballer” was especially critical of Klinsmann, saying that the former German coach didn’t have a good grip on game tactics and that strategizing fell on Low.

Meanwhile, Low could want to prove Lahm and others’ allegations right by seeking a victory over his former superior.

There are less dramatic factors at play, too. A win for either side would win them the group, meaning that the loser would likely face Belgium—a dark horse to win the entire tournament—first in the knockout round. The group winner would face either an under-performing Russian team or Algeria.

The US haven’t been too keen on the biscotto in the past. In their final World Cup qualifier, they had the opportunity to eliminate regional rivals Mexico by settling for a tie against Panama when the score was tied 2-2 late in the game. But in stoppage time, US forward Aron Johansson grabbed the winning goal, eliminating Panama from going to Brazil and inadvertently opening the door for Mexico.

In 1982, it appeared that Germany (playing as West Germany at the time) colluded with Austria to knock Chile and Algeria out of the World Cup. Some expect the Germans to be coaxed again because they’ve allegedly had a biscotto in the past.

But even if they did collude with Austria back then, times have changed.

The Germany of this generation isn’t going to roll over and die. It’s a team famous for its relentless attack and a joy for scoring as many goals as possible. That much was clear when they put four goals past Portugal to open the World Cup and led European World Cup qualification in scoring with 36 goals. Consider also that Miroslav Klose, one of Germany’s best forward, is just one tally away from breaking the all-time record for most goals at the World Cup.

It is entirely possible, of course, that despite Germany’s fire power, and the positive momentum of the US, and the talk of the biscotto, that Thursday’s match may fairly end with the score tied. But even if that does happen, sending both Germany and the US through to the knockout stage, there will be plenty of people scratching their chins inquisitively saying “hmmm.”