Portugal's Loss Is Team USA's Gain
Germany's 4-0 blowout of Portugal in its World Cup opener has effectively blown Group G wide open.
In the proverbial "Group of Death," which also includes the U.S. and Ghana, Germany and Portugal -- both top-five teams in the FIFA rankings -- had been considered all but locks to advance to the round of 16. One of the strongest teams overall, Germany went undefeated in the qualifying rounds and outscored all other European teams with 36 total goals. Of those, 24 were scored by six players -- Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Marco Reus, and Andre Schurrle -- a sign of the team's incredible depth. Meanwhile, Portugal is anchored by arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the group's peripheries were Ghana and the U.S., with the Americans given especially grim predictions heading into the World Cup. The U.S., it was widely believed, would need to gain at least five points (a win and two draws) to have a shot at advancing -- a tall order, indeed.
Now, however, that doesn't seem so unattainable. Monday evening's matchup against Ghana is still a must-win, but Germany's thorough thrashing has exposed Portugal's vulnerabilities and opened the door -- slightly -- for a U.S. victory when the squad faces Ronaldo and company on Sunday.
Portugal will be at least one man down, with Pepe suspended at least one game after earning a red card for head-butting Thomas Mueller in the 37th minute. The moment was indicative of the team's overall meltdown and could result in a longer suspension if FIFA sees fit. Portugal will now have to contend without its back line's most intimidating player, the perfect opportunity for the recently slumping Jozy Altidore to exploit to the Americans' advantage.
Things got worse for Portugal in the second half, with left-back Fabio Coentrao being carted off the field with an apparent groin injury. We don't yet know the extent, but some are speculating that he could be out for the rest of the tournament -- another big blow to Portugal's defense, as well as its ability to attack down the left.
Also unclear is the status of forward Hugo Almeida, who limped off the pitch in the 27th minute. Almeida starts alongside Ronaldo and hasn't been a consistent scoring threat, but the veteran certainly more proven than his likely replacement, Éder, who has yet to score at the international level.
Of course, none of this means anything if the Americans don't get it done tonight against Ghana.
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