Arena Amazonia, Manaus
June 21, 2014; 23:00 GMT
Having been drawn into arguably the toughest group in World Cup history, the United States needed nothing less than 3 points in their first game against the team that had previously knocked them out of two World Cups in a row. By defeating Ghana 2-1 via a John Brooks header, they have done exactly that.
While supporters in the USA would’ve been praying for a Germany victory over Ghana, a 2-2 draw between the two sides leaves them with an opportunity to go top of Group G in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Standing in their way is the small batter of conquering Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Can the USA do the unthinkable?
Team News and Tactical Brief
Monday’s 2-1 victory over Ghana (and taking into account the other results in Group G) has given Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States a golden opportunity to go to the top of Group G with a victory over Portugal. Qualification to the Round of 16 may be at stake here, but the victory over Ghana was achieved at a potentially high cost.
Jurgen Klinsmann has been vocal in prioritizing fitness and stamina during his near three year long tenure as manager. In this regard, not only was the sight of Jozy Altidore pulling up with a left hamstring injury a shocking one, it also deprived the United States of their only true No 9, someone who can contribute to attacks through his hold-up play. To make matters worse, Matt Besler limping off (albeit, as a precaution) thrust John Brooks into a situation he had no experience to draw from. Credit to the Hertha Berlin centre half for recovering from a shaky start to come up with the winning header; but his inexperience coupled with less than smooth communication with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron during the start of the second half against Ghana could have cost the USA dearly in Natal.
Aron Johannsson did a satisfactory job in deputising for Jozy Altidore, but his inability to hold the ball as proficiently as Altidore left him isolated during the second half against Ghana. Given his preference to work as part of a front two rather than a lone wolf up front, Jurgen Klinsmann might be tempted to use him as a substitute instead.
The absence of Fabio Coentrao and doubts over the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo could ease matters for the USA on the right wing, possibly making the inclusion of a 4-2-3-1 with two wingers necessary. Graham Zusi’s delivery on set pieces and ability to create natural width could see him lining up on the right, with Alejandro Bedoya retaining his place on the left.
Matt Besler is the source of another selection worry, but is likely to recover in time for Sunday’s clash against Portugal. Were he to be absent, however, John Brooks will partner Geoff Cameron in the centre of defence.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Tim Howard (GK); Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley; Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones; Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya; Clint Dempsey (C)
Ranked 4th in the world (according the latest FIFA world rankings), the sheer star power and ability of captain Cristiano Ronaldo should make them second favourites to advance to the knockout stages from Group G. But not only was losing their first game to Germany a setback to their hopes, the size of the defeat was damaging considering that goal difference may decide who qualifies from the group. As if the USA’s injury problems weren’t severe enough, the suspension of Real Madrid’s Pepe, injury to club teammate and left back Fabio Coentrao coupled with doubts over the fitness of centre half Bruno Alves and captain Cristiano Ronaldo could potentially leave Paulo Bento’s Portugal with a thin squad to cope with the heat and humidity of Manaus.
For all the attention that has been placed on Ronaldo, it is the red card shown to Pepe that could prove costly for the Selecção. His absence leaves Fenerbahce centre half Bruno Alves to lead the back four – but Alves missing training on Friday leaves him in doubt for the fixture. Were he to not make it, however, it could well be Luis Neto and Ricardo Costa protecting their goalkeeper. Manager Paulo Bento also has the option of throwing in the highly rated William Carvalho of Sporting Lisbon.
Portugal lost the midfield battle to Germany on Monday, and will need to make amends against the United States. Monaco’s Joao Moutinho and former Liverpool and Chelsea midfielder Raul Meireles will need to shoulder the burden of creating goalscoring chances through the middle of the park. On the other hand, were Ronaldo to be absent, veteran Helder Postiga could line up up front to use his experience to score the goals that Portugal desperately need.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Rui Patricio (GK); Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Costa, Andre Almeida; Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles; Cristiano Ronaldo (C), Helder Postiga, Nani
Players to watch out for
Michael Bradley (United States)
Michael Bradley’s relative success in Europe in his club career has lead to enhanced expectations of supporters in the USA from the American midfield general. In that regard, his performance against Ghana was a letdown.
Unlike in the opening fixture against Ghana, Bradley will assume a more attacking role in midfield, with the aim of supporting Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya in creating goalscoring opportunities. He will also need to track back on more occasions than one, given that he will directly lineup against Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles. Michael Bradley is known to be the engine room in the American midfield, and he will need to have enough in the tank on Sunday, esp given the heat and humidity that makes Manaus the most difficult venue in this World Cup.
Nani has come into this World Cup on the back of a less than stellar season at Manchester United, and failed to make an impact on the result in Portugal’s 4-0 defeat to Germany. He could be required to take on more responsibility to create goalscoring opportunities against the USA, esp given the doubts over the fitness of former club teammate and captain Cristiano Ronaldo.
USA left back DaMarcus Beasley’s preference to run forward and provide support in attack leaves Nani with the chance to run into space on more than one occasion. However, Nani on any given day can either be extremely good or extremely bad. It brings up the important question – which Nani will turn up?
United States 2-3 Portugal
Blast from the Past
The last time the two teams met in a World Cup, the USA did the unthinkable, defeating a Portugal squad that contained a golden generation of players who were tipped to realize their potential in international football. A 3-2 win for the USA was fuel for a run to the quarterfinals, and played a key role in eliminating former World Player of the Year Luis Figo’s Portugal out of the World Cup. Portugal now have the reigning World Player of the Year, but can the USA do the unthinkable again?