American national team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann had his team poised to advance to the knockout round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Sunday in Manaus, but Varela’s equalizing goal for Portugal in the last seconds of extra time changed the narrative as the two Group G teams ended up tied 2-2. A disappointing end for American fans — nevertheless, Klinsmann’s team played even better than they did in their opening win against Ghana, and can still qualify for the Round of 16 with a result against Germany Thursday.
Prior to the match, Portugal Coach Paolo Bento made four changes to the starting lineup that fared so poorly against Germany and deployed a 4-3-3 formation. Klinsmann had to figure out a different strategy, too, with a hamstring injury sidelining American forward Jozy Altidore. Klinsmann responded by placing Graham Zusi upfront in the American attack.
The match, played in the heat and humidity of the Amazon region, began with a bang, but not one Klinsmann desired. In the fifth minute, a poor clearance attempt by Geoff Cameron fell directly to the feet of Portugal’s Nani. The Manchester United man fired accurately from point-blank range and earned the Portuguese a 1-0 lead.
Klinsmann’s charges looked flustered for a bit, but began showing the fortitude that led to their last-minute comeback win against Ghana. The Americans were able to neutralize Cristiano Ronaldo, while beginning to work both wings, especially the right side, effectively. Though the first half ended with Portugal maintaining their 1-0 lead (held to one goal on a brilliant late half save by Tim Howard), Klinsmann’s men unleashed nine shots in the first 45 minutes, many from distance but most threatening enough to be of a concern to Portugal’s defense.
The second half started slowly, as it appeared that the players had to re-adjust to the weather conditions after intermission, but play picked up after a few minutes. The Americans looked to equalize in the 55th minute, when future Borussia Mönchengladbach man Fabian Johnson pulled a ball back from the right to former Borussia Mönchengladbach man Michael Bradley. His point-blank shot was blocked off the goalline by defender Ricardo Costa, but the play was an indication of the American’s intentions. Less than ten minutes later, former Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones launched the equalizing goal on an excellent curling shot from distance. Klinsmann’s team was in business.
In the 72nd minute, Klinnsman brought in 20 year-old fullback DeAndre Yedlin for Alejandro Bedoya. Yedlin, a controversial roster choice because of his age and lack of experience, was crucial in putting the American’s go-ahead goal. The Seattle Sounders’ youngster began the play, passing from the right deep in Portuguese territory, that ended with Graham Zusi assisting Clint Dempsey. Dempsey’s chested the ball into goal for his second score of this edition of the World Cup, driving American fans in Manaus to frenzy with only eight minutes remaining in regulation play.
But then, there is Ronaldo. The famous CR7, like his Argentine counterpart Lionel Messi on Saturday, was bottled up much of the match. But with 30 seconds remaining in extra time, the contender with Messi for best player in the world was the difference maker, just as Messi was in scoring very late Saturday against Carlos Queiroz’ resolute Iranian side. Ronaldo didn’t score the equalizer, but his pinpoint diagonal cross was perfectly met by one of Bento’s substitutes, Porto’s Varela, and the game ended drawn 2-2.
Despite the obvious disappointment for Klinsmann and his squad at losing the chance to advance to the knockout stage after only two matches, their contest with Portugal again indicated that Klinsmann knows what he’s doing. Substituting for Altidore, Zusi provided the assist on Dempsey’s goal and played reasonably well, although his corner kicks were lacking the quality he demonstrated in the Ghana match. He has Jermaine Jones reinvigorated. The German-American wore out his welcome in Gelsenkirchen before joining Beşiktaş last January, but has been in top form for the USMNT. The insertion of Yedlin provided speed for a tiring lineup and helped the Americans’ earn their second goal. Striker Chris Wondoloski, brought in late, was able to shear time off the clock with his play down the left side, albeit not quite enough time. And the insertion of tall central defender Omar Gonzalez very late to knock down any upcoming Portuguese crosses should have helped.
Klinsmann commented after the match
Now we have to go out and beat Germany, that’s what we have to do. We have to play Germany, we have one less day to recover, we played in the Amazon, they played on a place with less travel. We have to do it the tough way
Is Klinsmann once again downplaying his team’s chances? After all, he caused controversy when earlier stating that his team of Americans had no chance of winning the World Cup. Or is he using psychology to motivate his team, painting them as even more of an underdog against Germany than the disparate talent levels of the two squads would indicate, a subtle suggestion that they need to put everything on the line to get a result against the Germans and advance?
All four Group G national teams will be looking to advance from the group stage on Thursday. Klinsmann has already demonstrated the coaching skill in the World Cup to pull off an upset of the more-talented German team that he formerly coached. Despite their abundance of quality players, the Germans certainly didn’t look invincible in their 2-2 draw with Ghana, again displaying the defensive frailty that has been the Achilles’ heel of the star-laden squad under Jogi Löw . Thursday promises to be intriguing.
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