The first 180 minutes of play on Day 5 of the 2014 World Cup were bereft of the drama that characterized the first four days of world football's grandest tournament.
Germany trounced Portugal in the opening match, and Iran played Nigeria to a drab stalemate in the second match.
The United States national team made sure the world got the drama it craved, beating Ghana 2-1 on a late header from young centre-back John Brooks, in just his fifth game for the national team.
Here are the full recaps from each of the day's games, followed by the updated group standings and a preview of Day 6.
Day 5 Recaps
Germany 4-0 Portugal
The majority of soccer fans were probably looking for a strong, back-and-forth matchup between these two titanic sides. Instead, they were treated to a Portuguese meltdown and a rampaging Germany squad that played up to its considerable reputation.
Thomas Mueller began the stomping of Portugal with a strong finish on a penalty kick in the 12th minute of play.
Centre-back Mats Hummels powered home Die Mannschaft's second goal with a strong header in the 32nd minute, and Portugal were on the ropes after just over a half-hour of play.
Pepe then dashed any hopes of a Portugal comeback with his thoughtless head-butt of Mueller. The referee gave him a straight red card, ensuring Pepe will miss Portugal's match against the United States.
Of course, a single moment of uncontrolled rage turns you into a pariah on global level. New York Times editor Andrew Das tried to get into Pepe's frame of mind after the match:
Mueller bagged his second goal soon after the restart for the second half and completed his hat-trick with a strong strike in the 78th minute. ESPN Stats & Info had the word on Portugal's historically bad result:
Germany are the class of Group G and should have no trouble against Ghana and the United States. They will look to get out of the group stage unscathed and hope for a favorable draw in the round of 16.
Portugal will be reeling after the match and will likely need a victory against the United States in order to have any chance at advancing out of this group. The goal differential puts them in a very difficult spot. Portugal will need a better performance out of Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the attacking force if they are to make a strong World Cup run.
Iran 0-0 Nigeria
Well, it was bound to happen sometime. Iran and Nigeria played to a nil-nil draw, the first tie of the 2014 World Cup. It was a dominating performance for Nigeria in every aspect of the game other than the scoreline.
Nigeria held the ball for 70 percent of the match and managed to fire off 10 shots, six of them on target, as per The New York Times. Few of those chances posed any real threat, while Iran failed to create much of an attacking threat at any point during the match.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl couldn't suppress his feelings about the match:
The 0-0 draw looked incredibly dire in comparison to the fantastic performances that have characterized the World Cup thus far.
Iran's defensive performance was commendable, but it would have needed a shock upset of Nigeria to have any chance at moving on from the group stage.
Nigeria will have a very difficult time breaking down the tough Bosnia-Herzegovina defense if they continue to play like they did against Iran. Nigeria will certainly take the lone point, but the Super Eagles will need much more panache if they are to end up in the top half of their group and move on to the knockout stages.
United States 2-1 Ghana
The United States tried to make a smash-and-grab job out of their game against Ghana with a first-minute goal, but they needed a late header from Brooks to break a deadlock and win their first 2014 World Cup match.
The game was characterized as a revenge match for the United States; Ghana eliminated the Stars and Stripes from the 2010 World Cup. Clint Dempsey immediately sent United States fans into rapturous ecstasy with his spectacular first-minute strike. ESPN FC has the indelible highlight:
Ghana were undeterred and remained a threat throughout the entire game. NBC Sports' Arlo White noted the fleet-footed exploits of Christian Atsu, who was a constant nuisance during the first half:
Tragedy struck for the United States as Jozy Altidore pulled up short while chasing a long pass down the left side. The durable forward went down clutching his hamstring and looked to be in excruciating pain. Aron Johannsson came on for Altidore but struggled to make an impact in the first half.
ESPN FC's Twitter account commented on the attacking bind the United States faced without Altidore:
The injury fears didn't end there for the Stars and Stripes; Dempsey ended up with a bloody nose after a high-kick from a Ghanaian player, and centre-back Matt Besler was shown grabbing at his hamstring before the half-time whistle.
The United States looked relieved to just make it to the locker room with their lead intact.
Jurgen Klinsmann's squad did its absolute best to hold back the Ghana attack during the second half, but the Black Stars broke through with an absolutely stunning strike from Andre Ayew in the 83rd minute to tie the game at 1-1.
The United States had protected a one-goal lead for 81 minutes, fighting through heat, injuries and exhaustion. It seemed like the team had very little left in the tank after that adrenaline-sapping goal from Ayew.
It took a pair of substitutes to provide the United States with the shining moment. In the 86th minute, midfielder Graham Zusi sent an excellent corner kick into the penalty box and Brooks—who came on at the half to replace Besler—finished it off with a strong header for his first national team goal. ESPN FC has the moment:
The United States will need to regroup if they are to have a chance at beating a talented Portugal squad. The health of the team will be crucial to sustaining a high level of play.
Ghana will certainly feel like they let the match slip away. They outperformed the United States for the majority of the match. It will take a Herculean effort for them to beat a dangerous Germany squad in their second match of the World Cup.
Updated Group Standings
|2014 World Cup Standings|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1||0||0||1||-1||0|
Day 6 Preview
Host nation Brazil will look to build upon their opening-day 3-1 victory over Croatia. Mexico will do their best to challenge the World Cup favorites; they played some of the finest attacking soccer of the tournament in the 1-0 defeat of Cameroon.
Many of the Brazilians on this year's squad will remember their 2-1 loss to Mexico in the 2012 Olympic final. Brazilian midfield star Oscar commented on the pain that defeat caused.
“That one especially hurt,” said Oscar, via The Guardian's David Hytner. “It was a title we didn’t have. But we know Mexico has a very good team and they have always created difficulties for Brazil. It won’t be any different this time.”
Belgium will look to get their World Cup campaign off to a swashbuckling start against Algeria. The Belgium squad will be heavy favorites in that match and should come away with an easy victory.
Russia takes on South Korea in the last of the first-round matches. The Russians will be keen to erase the memories of their last World Cup appearance; they failed to make it out of the group stage back in 2002.
“We have things to prove in this World Cup,” said centre-back Vasili Berezutskiy, via Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Independent. “It’s been 12 years since Russia have participated in the World Cup so our objective is to play more than three games, try to qualify from our group and after that we will see.”
Russia will have to be wary of a pair of Bundesliga stars on South Korea's roster: Borussia Dortmund's Ji Dong-won and Bayer Leverkusen's Son Heung-min. They've proved to be a dangerous attacking combo for South Korea with a combined 14 goals in 53 caps between the two of them.
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