Much has been made in recent days of the struggles Portugal faces going into Sunday’s must-win match against the United States. Following a crushing 4-0 defeat to Germany, Portugal is being written off by many experts and American soccer fans. Even a Portugal in a debilitated state still has bags of genuine quality, probably more than the United States post-Jozy Altidore injury.
Cristiano Ronaldo may or may not be fully fit but in sports we have, on many occasions, witnessed the heroic exploits of athletes on fire from adrenalin even while carrying a nagging injury. Ronaldo even not fully fit will be a handful for Fabian Johnson and the United States back four. On the other wing, Nani despite his poor club form with Manchester United, remains a danger man of some note whose pace and crossing ability could give the United States fits.
In central midfield where the United States were unable to maintain ball possession on Monday in the 2-1 victory over Ghana, Portugal features the excellent João Moutinho. The Monaco man is able to dictate the tempo and pace of matches in a way no American midfielder can. Even in his thirties, midfielder Raul Meireles remains a threat and quality going forward. Meireles links up well with Moutinho and can play short simple passes that help to build the Portuguese attack.
At the back, the Portuguese do have problems with Pepe’s suspension and the injury to Fábio Coentrão. But the United States with limited attacking options and a distinct lack of quality in the final third may not have enough to sustain the attack long enough to test Portugal’s replacements.
The United States has an air of confidence about the side. And given the possible poor mental state of the Portuguese side, the USA might be favorites. But if the mentality for Portugal is decent and Ronaldo in fact is even 75% fit, the Portuguese have to like their chances to take all three points. The United States have not won consecutive World Cup games since 1930 and Portugal has advanced out of the group stage of the last five major tournaments.