U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones (No. 13) celebrates his goal. (ussoccer.com)
As Americans sat glued to their TVs watching the United States take on Portugal, they were taught an extremely important lesson: Soccer is a cruel mistress.
“Football is cruel sometimes,” said United States goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Yes, Tim, it is.
Cristiano Ronaldo was highlighted before the match, and rightfully so. He did very little throughout the game, however. That is, up until there were only 30 seconds left in the match.
Michael Bradley turned the ball over with a poor decision in the U.S. half of the field which left Ronaldo with the ball on the right wing. Ronaldo whipped in what has to be the ball of the tournament, onto the head of substitute Silvestre Varela. Varela took the ball right off of his head into the Howard’s net.
America became silent.
Just over 10 minutes earlier, all of the United States was celebrating what was thought to be the game-winning goal by Clint Dempsey. But Ronaldo, Varela and the Portuguese, were having none of it. Needing at least a draw to stave off elimination, they were in desperation mode, and their superstar delivered.
Portugal’s first goal came from a mistake by U.S. defender Geoff Cameron in the 5th minute. Cameron failed to make solid connection on a clearance and it fell right to Nani, who took his chance with relative ease.
The United States. weathered the Portuguese storm and in the 65th minute, midfielder Jermaine Jones curled a ball from the top of the box into the Portuguese net, putting the U.S. team back in the game.
Dempsey would put the United States ahead after substitute DeAndre Yedlin bombed down the right wing and whipped in a ball that caused havoc among the Portuguese defense. After a little bit of mayhem, Graham Zusi flicked the ball into the middle of the box onto the chest of Dempsey, who guided it home to give Team USA the lead.
It was all for nothing. All of America’s hard work was undone thanks to a poor decision by Bradley, who had an abysmal second half. It only takes a second of brilliance to change the mood of millions of people in the world of soccer, and one of the best in the world shattered the hearts of those millions.
Tactically, the United States played a great game.
Jurgen Klinsmann made one change from the game against Ghana. With Jozy Altidore shelved due to an injury, Zusi was inserted into the lineup. Zusi, as I’m sure you remember, provided the ball from a corner to American legend John Brooks to give the Americans the lead against Ghana.
With an extra body in midfield, DaMarcus Beasley wasn’t as exposed as he was in the first game, giving him some license to go forward. When Beasley went forward, he caused panic. When he was forced to defend, he still caused panic.
The extra body in midfield was ever-present. The United States was able to control the ball a lot better than the previous game, and they were able to create more chances. The defense wasn’t being constantly tested, and the wingers were able to stretch their legs.
Klinsmann has hit just about every nail on the head in terms of adjusting his personnel. Zusi provided an assist, and Yedlin was the reason the ball got in the box for the second goal. Defensively, Ronaldo found very little space and was closed down by numerous defenders whenever he received the ball.
This game should give the Americans hope they can compete with Germany, who were the favorite to win the group heading into the World Cup. If the United States draws or wins their final game against Germany, they automatically advance as the second-place team.
If the U.S. team loses and Ghana wins, it all depends on the score. Currently, the Americans have a +1 goal differential and Ghana as a -1 goal differential. Ghana needs to make up that difference if they are to advance. If the United States lose by one and Ghana wins by one, the Americans advance due to the tie-breaker.
If Team USA loses and Portugal wins, Portugal will need to make up the huge goal difference. Portugal has a -4 goal difference and would need a five-goal swing.
The game against ze Germans is Thursday at 9 a.m. Portugal takes on Ghana at the same time.
No one is safe in Group G. Every country has a chance to advance.
This is what the World Cup is about, so strap in your red, white and blue and get ready to witness the most stressful 90 minutes of your existence.
GROUP G STANDINGS
Team PTS GD
Germany 4 +4
United States 4 +1
Ghana 1 -1
Portugal 1 -4