The United States got their World Cup campaign off to a perfect start against the Black Stars of Ghana. The performance might not have been one for the ages, the sheer amount of back to the wall defending was painful to watch and I'm pretty sure i lost a year or two of my life from the stress, but there was plenty of positives to build on from Jurgen Klinsmann's point of view.
Portugal's injury problems
For the game in Manaus, Paulo Bento could be without as many as five of the players that started in the 4-0 destruction by the hands of Germany. Pepe got himself red carded for a ridiculous head-butt on Thomas Muller. Real Madrid left back Fabio Coentrao has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a nasty looking thigh problem that saw him subbed off against the Germans. Striker Hugo Almeida and goalkeeper Rui Patricio are both suffering from muscle problems as well and whilst not being officially ruled out just yet like Coentrao, they are both major doubts for the USA.
And then there is the curious case of one Cristiano Ronaldo. According to reports that emerged yesterday, Ronaldo may well be out of the World Cup due to the patellar tendinitis that was plaguing him before the tournament began. However, Jose Mourinho has now come out and said there is no doubt in his mind that the forward will be starting against the Stars and Stripes. We all know the Madrid man is injured, but this is likely his last World Cup at peak performance and will want to play every minute for his country.
Control the Game
If the States are to have any chance of collecting three points against Portugal then they have to play almost completely differently from the performance against Ghana. The midfield four of Michael Bradley, Ale Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones need to keep the ball and retain possession much better than in the first game.
Unfortunately that isn't where most of their strengths lie. Among that group, it's only really Bradley, the former AS Roma man, that looks comfortable with the ball at his feet. Beckerman is in there to guard the back four, sweep up loose balls and try to break up attacks. While Bedoya and Jones are on either side of the diamond for their work rate, getting up and down the field whilst helping out the full backs in defense.
It may be against their natural game but this is what those three will have to do, otherwise Portugal - whose midfielders love the ball at their feet - will dictate tempo and look to cut through the American's with their vertical passing.
Even with all the potential injuries the Portuguese provide a major threat to the State's chances of qualifying. They were humiliated in their first game and will be desperate to bounce back. The USMNT won't be as lucky as they were against Ghana if they offer up their opponents that many chances again.
A wounded Ronaldo is still a better finisher than any other player on the pitch, the US can't afford to find this out.
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