KENYA BROWN - Sunday, June 22, 2014
The United States national team will be looking to guarantee their place in the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup on Sunday when they take on Portugal at the Amazonia Arena in Manaus.
Both teams come into this game with something to prove as they had contrasting results in their Group G openers.
Portugal will be looking to get themselves back into contention for the second round after suffering a 4-0 loss to World Cup favorites Germany at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador.
Their performance on Sunday will depend on the health of captain Crisitano Ronaldo who has been suffering from tendinitis in his left knee. The reigning World Player of the Year played the entire 90 minutes against the Germans, but was ineffective as his team was routed.
The 29-year-old has participated in training with his teammates, but has often left with an ice pack wrapped around his knee.
Head coach Paulo Bento's side will be missing two key players in the defense as Fabio Coentrao suffered a groin injury and Pepe received a red card for his headbutt on German forward Thomas Muller, suspending him automatically from the game. In addition, forward Hugo Almeida will be missing with his own muscle injury.
Portugal will no doubt be on the attack as they will be looking to get three points.
The United States is also coming into the game with their own injury concerns. Forward Jozy Altidore has been ruled out as he suffered a left hamstring strain in the first half against Ghana. In the absence of the 24-year-old, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have to look to Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski to fill in.
On a positive note, defender Matt Besler's hamstring injury was not as serious as first thought and he will be available for Sunday's game. Captain Clint Dempsey will also be available for the game despite suffering a broken nose after a kick to the face from Ghanaian defender John Boye.
The United States will also be looking to improve on their performance in the upcoming game despite the 2-1 victory over the Black Stars. While they were able to hold on defensively against wave after wave of attacks from Ghana for the majority of the game, they had difficulty holding on to the ball and taking more chances on the opposition's goal.
One of the player's that received the brunt of criticism after the Ghana game was midfielder Michael Bradley. Seen as the engine of the U.S. midfield, the Toronto FC man had a below par performance as his passing was off and looked invisible in the attack. He has never had two bad games in a row, so it is expected that his performance will improve come Sunday.
If the United States can improve on their performance, a draw will be good enough to see them through to the second round as they have a superior goal difference over Portugal. However, U.S. fans should not expect the team to go out for the game just looking to get a draw. They will be looking to show that they can match up to the Portuguese and possibly grab another win.
The team can look to the 2002 World Cup team for inspiration as they grabbed a 3-2 win over a Portuguese side with the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Pauleta.
As for Portugal, their backs are against the wall. Anything but a win on Sunday and they could be making holiday plans for the rest of the World Cup.