The FourFourTwo Preview: USA vs Portugal
2002 déjà vu, just slightly different.
Yes, this is a re-run of the Group D game of 2002, when Bruce Arena's Team USA upset the Portugal of Luis Figo and Rui Costa to win 3-2, a result that helped them through to the knockout stages behind group winners and co-hosts South Korea. That unexpected USA victory came in their opening game, this encounter comes a game later, but the Portugal of 2014 are in grave danger of exiting in the same surprisingly sorry manner unless they pick up all three points.
Overpowered by a German team that will dismantle most opponents, Portugal's opening game was ruined by Pepe's numb skull and the type of supercilious, to-the-letter and by-the-book referee that FIFA like to fast track.
A four-goal thumping in an opening game might ordinarily spell the end for any team, but Portugal will expect Germany to run up similar scores in their remaining two games to make goal difference less of an issue. So, providing Portugal can clear their heads and see what's left of the group for what it is: two important but winnable games, they should still squeeze through.
Their World Cup, in effect, starts now but their cause isn't helped by them missing three players for this one. Hugo Almeida has sprained his bongo tache and will miss at least the remaining group games, Fábio Coentrão is out for the whole World Cup and will be a bigger miss, while the suspended Pepe is indeed suspended and should be undergoing psychiatric tests. Such ill-fortune will test the depth of Paulo Bento's squad.
The USA's spirited, surprising and by the end unlikely win over Ghana may concern Portugal, but while Jurgen Klinsmann has them playing as a team, it was a fortuitous win. A goal up before anyone had blinked, the USA were then slowly tenderised by the giant Africans – the 21/8 efforts on goal stat in Ghana's favour tells the story, or at least part of the story. Ghana only got 3 to the USA's 4 on target, so for 'efforts on goal', read 'efforts in the vague direction of goal'.
Much here will obviously depend on the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo. Frisky against the Germans for the first eight minutes, as soon as Portugal fell behind he disappeared, along with the rest of his team-mates.
Having been photographed in training with an ice pack on his knee and a doctor warning him not to play for the good of his career, his participation remains in doubt. Unless it's all an elaborate smokescreen. If CR7 plays and really is 100%, he could carry a very limited and limping Portugal through single-handedly. Unless recent history repeats itself, that is.
What the local media say
A man from the LA Times seemed happy with the first round of results. "It's all starting to come together," he chirped. "The U.S. team's route out of pool play in this World Cup, which looked muddled and confused Monday morning, had become as clean as Michael Bradley's bald head by Monday evening following the Americans' physical 2-1 win over Ghana in Natal and Germany's 4-0 pummeling of Portugal in Manaus."
He has targeted a win and a draw to progress from Group G, which sounds at least a point too few. But Team USA "now appear to have a good chance at the other when they meet a even-more-bruised and battered Portugal on Sunday in the Amazon."
Key battle: Kyle Beckerman vs Joao Moutinho
While it's tempting to paint this as battle between Cristiano Ronaldo versus The Whole Of America, it's likely the USA will attempt to counter his threat by placing at least nine men on him at all times. In which case, Monaco midfielder Moutinho is likely to hold all the aces.
Against Germany he topped almost every key attacking stat for the Portuguese – Passes 46/53, Attacking Third Passes 20/22, Interceptions 2, Chances Created 3. Against inferior opposition, no disrespect intended, he's likely to have more time to craft the bullets for Ronaldo and perhaps Nani to fire. Moutinho's battle with the feisty, dreadlocked American could be where the game is won and lost.
Facts and figures
- Portugal have only won 1of their last 8 games at the World Cup – the 7-0 tonking of North Korea in 2010 – drawing 3 and losing 4.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 2 goals from a total of 55 shots at the World Cup.
- The USA have only kept 2 clean sheets in their last 24 games at the World Cup – but they have scored in 7 successive World Cup games.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
If Ronaldo is 100%, Portugal to win 3-1. If he's not, revise that prediction downwards to the point where the USA may even win.