USA vs. Portugal, Match Preview, Re-evaluating Group G Pecking Order

M.F. DiBella@@MFDiBellaCorrespondent IJune 19, 2014

By The Brooks Of Things..
By The Brooks Of Things..Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For the USMNT, the Group of Death has become the Group of New Life.

After John Brooks' (Hertha Berlin) header in the 86th minute proved to be the game-winner against Ghana and Germany's 4-0 demolition of Portugal, the U.S. finds itself in a favorable position ahead of Sunday's clash with A Selecao.

The news just keeps getting worse for the Portuguese.

Arch-defender Pepe's red card against Germany ensured he would play no part in Sunday's match in Manaus. To compound matters at the back, defender Fabio Coentrao will miss the remainder of the Cup due to a groin injury. 

On top of those concerns, rumor-mongers, including a report from The Metro, continue to suggest Cristiano Ronaldo is risking his career by continuing to play in the World Cup.

The media went into frenzy-mode on Wednesday when CR7 left practice early with an ice bandage on his troublesome knee, but most experts tend to agree, including Jose Mourinho via ESPN, that the Ballon d'Or winner will line up for the Portuguese on Sunday.

Portugal's woes bode well for Team USA, as they already knew they were facing a gutted side plundered by Germany. We have seen what a demoralizing opening match defeat can do to the best of squads, as Spain fell listlessly out of the World Cup after a 2-0 loss to Chile on Wednesday.

Confidence appears to be everything thus far in the second match of the group stage and Team USA are brimming with it after turning the tables on Ghana in dramatic fashion.

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Gratuitous Expectations
Gratuitous ExpectationsLeo Correa/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

The news is not all rockets and red glare for Jurgen Klinsmann's men, as Jozy Altidore's World Cup remains in doubt. Altidore will not suit up for Sunday's match and according to ESPN analyst Ruud van Nistelrooy, as per the IB Times, he could be sidelined for four to six weeks.

Of course, the injury has fanned the flames for the Landon Donovan debate ever anew. The U.S. will have to rely on the likes of Aron Johannsson at the striker position, a player who failed to impress in his 60-plus minutes of substitute duty on Monday.

It's hard to give Klinsmann too much stick after his team proved many doubters wrong in Natal.

However, with only Chris Wondolowski left as another striking option, it's harder to fathom what positive role extra defenders DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo) and Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) are going to play at this World Cup.

Team USA has to contend with Portugal and Germany with their current deploy, but with the prospect of needing goals in these final two Group Stage matches (and, dare we say, the knockout stages), the argument for the L-Word has to be made.

The U.S. could go through if they manage scoreless draws against their final two opponents provided Ghana don't win their last two. But the odds of holding off both an albeit-depleted Portugal and Germany (A-Team or B-Team), are beyond slim.

Donovan's five goals in 12 World Cup appearances will have to be revisited should the U.S. fail to get out of the group stage on account of a goal drought.

The task at hand is Portugal, and while the media and supporters alike are prone to build-up and conjecture, it is generally much ado about talking points.

Both sides have additional injury concerns to those already mentioned. Matt Besler (Sporting K.C.), who Brooks replaced at halftime, appears to be fit for Sunday after a hamstring strain against Ghana.

Clint Dempsey's broken nose could be a minor factor, though the Texan is not likely to back down from challenges even if he has to wear a mask.

MaskcogdochesOriginally created for The Shin Guardian, by Ben Saufley

Portugal forward Hugo Almeida (Besiktas) will also miss the rest of the group stage.

While Klinsmann is tight-lipped about his game plan, the U.S. could switch to a 4-5-1, inserting Graham Zusi (Sporting K.C.) as a wide midfielder (it was Zusi's outswinging corner that Brooks latched onto against Ghana) with Dempsey alone up top.

A desperate Portugal will likely counter with a 4-3-3, with Helder Postiga (Lazio on loan from Valencia) and Nani (Manchester United) along either side of Cristiano Ronaldo, as per Whoscored. Ricardo Costa (Valencia) and Andre Almeida (Benfica) should fill in for Coentrao and Pepe at the back.

The wounded animal argument held no weight in Spain's case, but this Portugal team, particularly Mr. Ronaldo, managed to get the result needed in a do-or-die qualifying tie with Sweden last November—Ronaldo scored all four goals in the 4-2 aggregate victory.

As things stand right now, the U.S. have a good shot at being the second team out of Group G. The Ghanaians will not roll over against Germany, but a 2-0 or 3-1 win for DFB-Elf should be the result there.

With a Germany win against Ghana, the U.S. could face a scaled-back German side for the final game of the group stage. The Yanks defeated such a B-Team on June 2, 2013 by a score of 4-3.

Hold on to your star-spangled hats American Outlaws, the U.S. still has work to do to emerge from the Group of Death with their World Cup pulse intact.


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