U.S. quietly confident ahead of Portugal clash
SAO PAULO -- There are two ways of looking at Sunday's rumble in the jungle against Portugal (6 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN), according to Michael Bradley.
"One is that they lost 4-0 to Germany, they played 60 minutes down a guy, and they have a few injuries," the United States midfielder told reporters here Friday, shortly before the U.S. team traveled to the Amazonian city of Manaus, where the high-profile match will be played.
"The other side says that it is, in some ways, a desperate team that is playing for their lives because they need a result. We have to respect that."
There's little question the Americans will go into the game at Arena Amazonia full of respect for FIFA's fourth-ranked team. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear this week that he believes Portugal is a significant step up in competition from Ghana -- even if they could be without up to six starters, including world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, from Monday's defeat to Die Mannschaft because of injury or suspension. (For what it's worth, the Portuguese camp insisted Saturday that Ronaldo is healthy.) Klinsmann won't need to remind his players that they were fortunate to escape their first game with three points.
Still, there's no denying that this tilt sets up pretty well for the Yanks.
It's not just that Portugal will be depleted, or that the game will be played in hot (80 degrees at kickoff), sticky (87 percent humidity) conditions that many of the U.S. players have faced regularly in World Cup qualifiers or in Major League Soccer. The Americans also have a fairly good track record against elite, highly technical teams on the global stage -- actually, it's the teams that can match their physicality that tend to cause them problems.
Don't believe it? Just look at recent history. The U.S. defeated Portugal in its opener in 2002, then closed out the group stage with a 3-1 loss to Poland. They tied eventual champion Italy in 2006, despite finishing that contest with nine men, but lost to the Czech Republic and Ghana. And four years ago, in perhaps the easiest group in South Africa, they struggled mightily against middling foes England, Slovenia and Algeria before Ghana eliminated them in the Round of 16.
As much pressure as there is on Portugal, there's almost as much on the U.S. after Germany and Ghana played to a 2-2 stalemate on Saturday.
The Yanks seemed like a loose bunch before leaving for the airport, and Sunday's match isn't the almost must-win it would have been had the Black Stars held on for the win in Fortaleza, but now, even a tie against Portugal would leave the Americans needing at least a point against Germany to advance to the knockout stage. On the other hand, beating Portugal would leave the U.S. in position to finish atop Group G if they can steal even a point in their first-round finale.
It all depends on how you look at it.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.