Photo by Perry McIntyre/ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Win and they’re through. That’s what’s at stake for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Sunday evening.
When Ghana held on to draw Germany, it added even more significance to the USA’s match against Portugal in Manaus (6 p.m. ESPN), as the U.S. stand on the verge of an unexpected achievement in the “Group of Death.” Heading into the match however, both teams have huge questions to answer.
For the U.S., it’s how, and who, they replace forward Jozy Altidore in the lineup. The 24-year-old suffered a left hamstring strain early in the 2-1 victory vs. Ghana and his replacement, Aron Johannsson, didn’t provide the necessary hold up play. USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann now has the huge decision of who to start up top, whether it’s Johannsson, Chris Wondolowski, or a change in formation with Clint Dempsey playing that role.
For the USA’s opponents Portugal, they’re looking to pick themselves off the floor following a thrashing at the hands of Germany. On top of that, they will be missing at least four starters – Defenders Pepe (suspension), Fabio Coentrao (injury), goalkeeper Rui Patricio (injury), and forward Hugo Almedia (injury) – and could be playing with a less-than-100 percent Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both Ronaldo and winger Nani failed to impress against Germany while their central pairing were torn apart. However, on their day, Nani and Ronaldo will give the U.S. fullbacks a very tough time on the field. It will also be interesting to see how the heat and humidity affect the game, with the USMNT most accustomed to these conditions through World Cup qualifying.
Here are some more notes on today’s World Cup slate:
BELGIUM vs. RUSSIA
Coming off a come-from-behind victory over Algeria, Belgium travel to Brazil’s famous Maracana stadium to face the next World Cup hosts, Russia, in a match that could determine who finishes at the top of the group. (12 p.m. ABC)
Belgium welcome back captain Vincent Kompany after he missed three days of training this week due to a groin strain, but head coach Marc Wilmots will need to see more from his starting lineup. It wasn’t until substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens scored in the second half that Belgium looked good enough to win their first World Cup match since 2002.
Wilmots has decided to make three changes, bringing Thomas Vermaelen in at left back and starting Fellaini in the middle and Mertens in the right wing in place of Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele, and Nacer Chadli, respectively. Fellaini will anchor the 4-2-3-1 formation with Kevin De Bruyne playing off Romelu Lukaku up top, who should be raring to go against Russia.
Fabio Capello’s side struggled mightily in their World Cup opener to break down South Korea, and normally sure-handed goalkeeper Igor Ikinfeev’s howler kept Russia from keeping a clean sheet. Alan Dzagoev and Alexander Kerzhakov both looked strong after coming on in the second half and those two could be key to unlocking Belgium’s veteran defense.
SOUTH KOREA vs. ALGERIA
Two teams looking to keep their World Cup hopes alive face off in a key group stage match at the Estádio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre. (3 p.m. ABC)
South Korea struggled in their pre-World Cup friendly matches but they regained a little bit of respect with their draw against Russia. Head coach Hong Myung-bo will be asking for more from Park Chu-Young up top along with Bundesliga starlet Heung-Min Son, who looked lively and bright in South Korea’s opener.
Algeria on the other side scored a first half penalty kick goal and looked strong for the opening 70 minutes before Belgium equalized. Nabil Bentaleb, in his first World Cup, has looked promising in midfield and the African nation will look to center midfielders Riyad Mahrez and Sofiane Feghouli to control the middle of the field. If Algeria can do that, they can bring full backs Faouzi Ghoulam and Mehdi Mostefa into the attack to pressure South Korea’s defense.
What do you think of today’s World Cup slate? Do you expect the USA to go out and play for the win? Should they sit back and wait to counter-attack? Do you see Belgium controlling the game from the get-go against Russia?
Share your thoughts below.