Frankly, I’m in a little bit more of a comfort zone right now; the US had one point in 2010, nil in 2006 after their respective Game 1’s. Shock me, Klinsy. Surprise me against Portugal. You’re playing with house money right now. Roll the dice.
After Monday, we can handle it and expect nothing less.
The US clashes with Portugal in the steam bath of Manaus on Sunday, looking to punch their own ticket to the knockout stage with a victory over the Portugals of Ronaldo.
Midfield stalwart Michael Bradley has belabored a point that the media is gobbling up like a dose of Klinsmann rhetoric.
His objective for the team, in his words:
“We want to be the team that can suffer the most.”
And suffer the US did in nothing short of one of their guttiest World Cup performances of all-time. The match saw multiple players encumbered by muscle cramps, injured hamstrings to Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore and a broken nose to Clinton Drew Dempsey.
The US has never lacked toughness and guile, but for a contingent that was shaded toward the inexperienced side, Monday’s result thumbed a nose at any moxie concerns.
Portugal, however, did not as “suffer as well as” the States.
An embellishment job by German forward Thomas Müller goaded Pepe into a red card and injuries to defender Fábio Coentrão and forward/longshoreman Hugo Almeida will keep the duo from starting in game two.
And Portugal suffered some more… taken out back to the woodshed by Germany, leaving them with little dignity and even less margin for error through their next 180 World Cup minutes if they want to see their way through the group stage.
It’s a match-up that has long been set up well for the States tactically, much more so than the slain Ghana.
Even before the US corralled three points Monday, Klinsmann and staff were probably considering a strategy of sitting deep and playing on a very conservative counter. It makes sense.
Portugal have a very difficult time breaking teams down. Forced with the choice of whether to provide patches of space for Ronaldo or whether to merely erect a wall of legs and elbows on his in-cuts, it’s a no-brainer. The latter only takes an MBA to figure out (MBAs are frowned upon at TSG).
And the US proved in game one that it can take a punch or two (or three, or four, or five, etc.) deflect them and land a jab here or there. The comfort of having weathered and survived an attacking barrage can only instill further confidence.
Portugal, on the other hand–torn apart by waves of German midfielders and victims of a masterclass in dissection by Jogi Low–capitulated in their bunker. They attempted to counter and were continually stymied by the four German center-backs.
Moreover, that bunker seemed to be made out of cardboard as Özil, Götze and company surgically passed along the floor time and time again. It was deep, emergency defending from Portugal; not the best kind. When Pepe reduced his side to ten, it only compounded the challenge presented by the German attack — and the weather.
For Portugal–now backed up against the Group G fence–it’s “check the minerals” time. Can they get their vicious counter going? Can they press for long stretches and force the US to boom the ball up to a non-existent target forward?
For the US, it’s “dictate the tempo” …. the outstanding question begged from game one once Jozy Altidore hit the trainer’s table.
And then there is the heat. “Who’s willing to suffer more?” A question all the more apropos.
Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our not-so-customary preview.
> About The Opponent: Portugal
> TSG: What We’re Looking For
> The Altidore Proxy
> 11 At The Whistle
> The States’ Keys To the Match
About The Opponent: Portugal
Portugal limps into Saturday’s Manaus showdown off a brutal loss to Germany and a clinical dissection by German headman Jogi Löw after months of expert planning.
Low’s decision to play a 4-3-3 with a false 9 was incredibly insightful. While Pepe is fast, Alves is not, and Götze’s constant movement towards the midfield pulled Alves into a position that he could not recover from.
You saw that time and again, causing huge corridors for the Germans to run through. The constant positional interchanging up-front also made it practically impossible for both Portuguese center-backs to get their marks right. That confusion provided enormous holes for the Germans to take advantage of.
Portugal’s effort and decomposition was not wholly unexpected. It was more of the same from their qualifying days.
The opponent’s manual on Portugal is a rather simple one… and wholly based around the man who drafts the team and preaches “tranquility” — manager Paulo Bento.
Bento, in true corporatespeak, is the definition of The Turnaround Guy — and Brazil 2014 will prove to many if he’s overstayed his welcome (Note: Bento was re-upped for two more years in April; his contract now runs through 2016).
The former Sporting Lisbon coach ascended to Ronaldo’s caretaker in September of 2010 when then-Portugal manager (and current Iran coach) Carlos Quieroz was floundering in qualifying and the team was in danger of not even making the cut for Euro 2012.
Like any turnaround guy attempting to cut losses to improve fortunes, Bento brought stability, a reputation for pushing the right people buttons and, specifically, not alienating his star players–basically the inverse of André Villas-Boas.
Bento re-integrated the 4-3-3, claiming the system allowed the technical ability of the nation to flourish.
Now, he finds himself needing to conjure up some magic in Brazil — the country of another turnaround guy, Dunga, whose tenure with host nation parallels Bento’s.
Both Bento and Dunga were pragmatic, no frills defensive midfielders in their day. Both assumed the role of national team shepherd in times of unrest and initially guided their teams back to peak form in international competition–Dunga with a win at the 2009 Confederations Cup and Bento at the helm of a squad that was a few penalty kicks away from the Euro 2012 Final.
However, after escaping their group and suffering a quarterfinal loss to runner-up Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup, Dunga was relieved of his duties, deemed too rigid for the job — too rote to dynamically push his team to the next level.
Bento’s reign and tactical résumé may necessitate the same move from the Portuguese FA if the clash with the States does not go to plan.
The comparisons to Dunga’s Brazil don’t end merely with the management from the touchline.
The primary attacking action of both teams is similar. In 2010, Brazil sported Robinho between the lines in some sort of pseudo winger-withdrawn forward-#10 role — the same one that Ronaldo occupies for Bento’s squad.
And, similarly, both dynamic frontmen had thundering fullbacks bombing up the flanks behind them. For Brazil, this was Michel Bastos, a midfielder by trade who was nevertheless deployed at the overlapping fullback role and created great stress on opponents. Fábio Coentrão was to have occupied that same role for Portugal.