The U.S. men's national team has put the joy of Monday's win over Ghana in the rear-view mirror, and now heads toward Sunday's match against a hobbled Portugal full of confidence.SAO PAULO — The U.S. men's national team could not have asked for a more perfect scenario of events at this World Cup so far. Beat Ghana? Check. Have Portugal lose badly to Germany? Check. Have Portugal lose three starters to injuries or red cards? Check. Have Cristiano Ronaldo continue to be hampered by tendinitis in his left knee, which has led to rumors he may not be able to play any more in this World Cup? Check.
Despite all that, the U.S. national team surely knows it can’t afford to take a positive result against Portugal for granted, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s side has to know it will need a better showing in Manaus on Sunday than it delivered against Ghana last Monday, thrilling victory be damned.
Portugal is a wounded animal, which means the U.S. could successfully vanquish the pre-tournament powerhouse with a strong outing. But it could also mean that the Americans could be vulnerable to a desperate and deadly attack from a team that is still dangerous even without the likes of Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida.
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“This is a very dangerous team, even more dangerous than before, because when you get that 4-0 result from Germany, now you’re going to come into Manaus pretty angry,” Klinsmann said. “I don’t know how Cristiano Ronaldo behaves when he’s angry, but we expect a very, very difficult game, but we’re also looking forward to it.
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“Portugal is definitely a different caliber than Ghana,” Klinsmann said. “It’s one of the favorites, actually, for the tournament and has very exceptional players. We are well aware of that, but we are not comparing them to Ghana. Whatever Ghana is, its way back now in our minds and we’ll try to tell every player based on that information on them, but not overdoing it as well. We still have to focus on our game.”
The U.S. will be looking to improve on the performance that earned it a 2-1 victory against Ghana. As satisfying as that win was, Klinsmann and his players know there is plenty of room for improvement after a match that saw Ghana dominate possession and play the more dangerous soccer after the Americans jumped out to a first-minute lead.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” said U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. "I think we can learn a lot from that game. We came out with the victory. The three points is the most important thing, that result, but at the end of the day I think we’re going to back and study the video and film and work on things we need to improve on. There are certainly things we can do a lot better.
“Our defensive shape was good at times. I feel like that part is not the biggest concern,” he added. “But I feel like obviously keeping the ball, being a little calmer and confident with the ball.”
The Americans were sloppy in possession against Ghana, in large part because of the struggles of Michael Bradley, who covered more ground than any of his teammates last Monday, but also misplaced several passes and lacked his usual sharpness.
Ghana’s team speed, and focus on stopping Bradley, played some part in those struggles, but with Portugal likely to open things up and try to attack the U.S. defense, Bradley and the U.S. midfield should have more room to operate on Sunday in Manaus.
“I feel maybe Portugal’s maybe not as physical (as Ghana),” Bedoya said. “Maybe they’ll leave some more space to play and maybe it’ll be a more free-flowing game and obviously we’ve got to look at the video and see how we can do things better and hopefully we can manage the game better with the ball and more possession.”
Portugal’s loss of Coentrao leaves the team without a natural left back on its roster, and without Coentrao’s attacking verve from the left back position, the Portuguese should be an easier team to deal with defensively.
The Portuguese defense also has to cope with the absences of Pepe and Coentrao, meaning half the defense, and potentially starting goalkeeper Rui Patricio, could be out of Sunday’s match.
Even with those potential absences, Portugal still has plenty of firepower, with Nani and Raul Meireles among the players who will need to step up and provide support for a hobbled Cristiano Ronaldo.
One thing is clear. the U.S. team is heading toward Sunday’s match with confidence, and Klinsmann fully believes his team is ready to deliver another victory.
“I believe that we are very well prepared with a lot of respect that we have for that Portuguese team,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a difficult situation for them now after that 4-0 defeat, they are with their backs against the wall. That makes it even more difficult to get a result, but that’s what you want. That’s what a World Cup is about. We also have the chance with a win to hopefully qualify already. This can’t get any better.”