Have you recovered from Monday night yet? Me neither, but we better hope Klinsmann has the boys recharged and fit for Sunday’s clash against Portugal. In a game where we can possibly clinch a spot in the Round of 16, this game has become the USMNT’s World Cup Final. Before taking a look at Portugal, let’s recap how each of these teams got here.
The German machine was firing on all cylinders in this one, easily winning 4-0. Thomas Muller became the leading scorer through the first round of group stage games, recording a hat trick. Mats Hummels’ stunning header in the 32nd minute seemed to be the point where things began to boil over for Portugal. Everyone knew Pepe was going to do what Pepe does eventually in this tournament, and a 37th minute headbutt on Muller had him sent to the locker room and out of the next game against the U.S.. Many will blame Muller for going down very easily, but you can’t react to that situation the way Pepe did. To add insult to injury, starters Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao were both stretchered off the field in the second half, and will miss the game against the U.S.. Raul Meireles gave the referee a rather obscene gesture after the Pepe red card (Google it – I have more dignity than to post it here)*, but may not be suspended by FIFA for the U.S. match. Hummels also limped off late in the game. In the minds of USMNT fans, we couldn’t have dreamt of a much better result from this game.
*Editor’s note – After close examination, he’s using his index fingers to indicate what Bruno Alves should be doing after the red card. But he might have also been telling the ref where to stick it, we’ll never know.
Clint Dempsey recorded the fifth-fasted goal in World Cup history, and that seemed to be just about the only positive from the United States for the next 80-plus minutes. Jozy Altidore suffered a strained hamstring in the 21st minute, and Ghana dominated the game until around the 82nd minute, when Andre Ayew knotted things at one. That’s when the switched turned on. Instead of sitting back and settling for a draw, Jurgen Klinsmann went for it, and it worked. John Brooks, a player that many thought didn’t deserve a spot on the 23-man roster, headed in a Graham Zusi corner kick in the 86th minute to secure three points for the stars and stripes. Brooks came off the bench at the beginning of the 2nd half after Matt Besler came up limping after a play during the first half. Squawka rated him as the player of the game, and rightfully so – recording the game-winning goal, 90% pass succession, two interceptions, and seven clearances. It should also be noted that Clint Dempsey broke his nose in the 32nd minute, and of course he played the remainer of the game with it. You think he’s going to sit out against Portugal just because of a broken nose? Don’t count on it. Word has it he isn’t even going to wear a mask. A few stats to take away from the game: Possession → Ghana 59% – USA 41%; Shots → Ghana 21 – USA 8; Passing → Ghana 83% – USA 74%; Crosses → Ghana 38 – USA 8; and Chances Created → Ghana 17 – USA 8. That last one is probably the most glaring one. Pundits may say that the USA didn’t deserve a win, but the World Cup is all about capitalizing on your chances. The U.S. scored on 25% of their chances, while Ghana converted on just 6% of their chances. Win, lose, or draw, all that matters is the result. It may not have been pretty, but the U.S. grinded out three points, and that’s all that matters.
Group Standings (as of 6/20/14)
Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting).
Defenders: Andre Almeida (Benfica), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Fabio Coentreo (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Neto (Zenit), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia).
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting).
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (SC Braga), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Rafa (Braga), Varela (FC Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg).
Manager: Paulo Bento
In Portugal’s opener against Germany, Paulo Bento went with a 4-3-3 – Rui Patricio in goal; Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, and Fabio Coentrao on the back line; Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Raul Meireles across the midfield; Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings; and Hugo Almeida at striker. With Coentrao and Pepe out next game, expect to see Ricardo Costa and Andre Almeida replace them on the back line. Also, Eder should replace the injured Hugo Almeida at striker. You may also see William Carvalho replace Raul Meireles should FIFA decide to suspend Meireles for his gesture towards referee Milorad Mazic**.
**Editor’s note – see previous editor’s note.
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Depth in the midfield
- Players missing due to discipline and injuries
- Perhaps mentally drained
How The U.S. Can Exploit The Weaknesses & Contain The Strengths Of Portugal
The defending Ballon d’Or winner and arguably best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, is enough to force any team to change at least a portion of their game plan. With Ronaldo, it (maybe be) is simple: don’t let him beat you. Do whatever you have to do to keep him away from the ball. Whether it be letting Bedoya stay back a little further, or let Beckerman or Jones slide over to the right side of the field (Portugal’s left), or let Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron double-up on Ronaldo to keep him from cutting inside on his right foot. Ronaldo is such a dynamic player and can beat you in many ways, but I’d rather let Nani be the reason for a U.S. defeat than Ronaldo.
The best way to attack their depth in the midfield may be to attack their weakness: their defense. Half of their defense will be missing for this game, so guys that don’t get as much playing time will have to catch-up quickly with the remaining back four’s chemistry. Portugal’s missing players allow Klinsmann to have a few options with the way he wants to line up against them. The obvious option is to go with the same 4-4-2 diamond from the last game, replacing Jozy Altidore with Aron Johannsson. The lineup that I personally would like to see is a 4-2-3-1. Jermaine Jones played out-of-position on the left mid, and played a pretty good game. Also, Graham Zusi played very well after coming on in the 77th minute, providing the assist on the game-winning goal. In my eyes, a 4-2-3-1 formation against Portugal would keep the last five the same (Howard in goal and Johnson, Cameron, Matt Besler, and Demarcus Beasley in the back four), Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones as defensive midfielders, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, and Zusi as attacking midfielders, and Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. A 4-2-3-1 would limit their ability to attack Portugal’s back four, and that is my main complaint with that lineup. However, they can still beat Portugal with a lone striker. In my opinion, a 4-2-3-1 gives them the best opportunity to have a good mix of attack and defending on Ronaldo.
My last prediction (1-1 draw against Ghana) almost became a reality. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge Portugal’s performance as a whole, since they were limited to ten men after the 37th minute, but they looked very bad in the first 37 minutes. If they show up against the U.S. with the same mentality an performance, they better start packing their bags. The U.S. won against Ghana in typical U.S. fashion – grinding it out and converting on their chances. Combine their sky-high confidence with a deflated Portugal squad, and I think the U.S. pulls this one out. I’m going with a 2-1 win for the good guys, with Dempsey, Bedoya, and Ronaldo getting the goals.
***Ghana-USA stats provided by http://world-cup-2014.squawka.com/ghana-vs-usa/16-06-2014/world-cup/matches#VGwDyAyXbz3c5faL.97
****Roster provided by http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/27388351