The last five days of games saw goals, more goals and a number of logic-defying results that every neutral dreams of.
Spain and England are already packing their bags? Costa Rica surges past the 2006 champs Italy? Brazil is held by Mexico? Ze mighty Germans need to be bailed out by old-man-Klose for a point against Ghana? Not even our panel of seasoned experts saw this collection of results coming.
...well, maybe the like-clockwork England stumble was in the back of everybody's heads, but we still have to politely feign surprise.
Despite the battering that the official YA crystal ball has taken in the last few days, our staff takes their turn peering through the smoke to see what awaits Jürgen Klinsmann and his merry men in steamy Manaus against Portugal.
Portugal will be on the attack as they want to remain in contention for second place in the group. The United States will have to improve their play to keep up with them. More importantly, they will need to find a way to shut down a less than 100 percent Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal will be aggressive, but the United States will find a way to hold on. USA 2 Portugal 2.
With the absence of Jozy Altidore, the US now has a dilemma on the attacking front. Will Klinsmann start Aron Johannsson or give the nod to the best five-yard striker Chris Wondolowski? Either way, I can see the US playing ultra-conservative, dropping back most of the game and perhaps featuring counterattack. After all, a win would be huge and almost guarantee advancing to the Knockout round, but a tie would be just as important. USA 0 Portugal 0.
Yes, the result versus Ghana was great; yes, I'm thrilled about the spot we're in; yes, Portugal looked like utter shite versus ze Germans; yes, Pepe, Coentrao and Almeida are out; and yes, Ronaldo is probably, maybe banged up. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; there is still a lot we have to do. We have to play better as a whole, and our best player(s) must step up. We will have to be tidier in possession, be smart when expelling energy in the oppressive jungle heat and, of course, we have to be brave and bold when defending. This one is close and has me scared, but it's time to believe. US 1 Portugal 1.
This could come down to which team can best mitigate losses through injuries (and suspension, in the case of Pepe). Who fills in for Jozy? How does Clint handle playing with (or without) the mask for his broken nose? How much do the losses of Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida affect the way Portugal plays? The United States should be able to exploit Portugal's replacements in defense even without Altidore, while shutting down Cristiano Ronaldo will be the key to winning for the Americans. The U.S. does that and books a spot in the knockout stages with a 2-1 win.
With the question mark hanging over Ronaldo, the absences of Pepe, Coentrao, and Almeida, and the throttling bestowed on them by Germany in their first game, Portugal don't appear to be as strong as Americans feared. That being said, the US were outplayed by Ghana for most of Monday's game, with Altidore's injury and Bradley's ineffectiveness topping the list of grave concerns for the United States. Bradley will get it going against a softened Portugese backline and Ronaldo, with or without an icepack on his knee, can break down the shaky US defense. This is a push, 2-2 tie.
It's impossible to call this one. I'll say a 1-1 tie leaving everything up in the air for the final day.
Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson team up and call upon their German side to cast an all-too-familiar hex on a hobbled and neutralized Ronaldo. Shut down in open play, he still breaks the Americans' hearts with a beautiful free kick goal. Drat. Pepe replacement Neto evens things up with a spectacularly cringe-worthy own-goal to give the Americans hope. However chaos reigns supreme and Nani keeps Portugal alive with the 2-1 winner in injury time.