The two sides came into this game with contrasting opening fixtures. While the Americans were lacking expectations at the World Cup, they managed a positive result against Ghana, while the Portuguese disappointed with a 4-0 loss to Germany (though a victory was never likely). In what was the last late game of the World Cup, both teams certainly left it late. Although they shared the points, the US certainly were the more impressive side and looked deserving of all three points, while the Portuguese can count themselves extremely lucky for not having been knocked out of the tournament already.
USA (4-2-3-1): Howard, Cameron, Besler, Johnson, Beasley, Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya (Yedlin 72′), Zusi (Gonzalez 90′), Dempsey (Wondolowski 97′)
Portugal (4-3-2-1): Beto, Costa, Alves, Pereira, Almeida (Carvalho 45′), Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles (Varela 69′), Nani, Ronaldo, Postiga (Eder 16′)
Goals: Jones 64′, Dempsey 81′; Nani 5′, Varela 90′
Despite going a goal down in the early exchanges, the US always seemed like the better side and capable of adding more on the scoreboard. Klinsmann’s men conceded early through an error but got organised immediately after and were in firm control; their set-up and game plan didn’t change despite going behind.
The biggest avenue of attack for the Americans was coming down the right hand side with Andre Almeida and Cristiano Ronaldo the guilty party (the latter more so, the former purely for not having a control of his side undeniably not helped by his captain). Cristiano Ronaldo, though one of the most lethal footballers of all time in an attacking capacity, offers next to nothing to his defence. Being the captain of his team, you’d expect a more contributing performance overall, but this was clearly lacking against the US (and generally as well). The Ballon D’Or winner failed to track back constantly throughout the game, leaving Almeida completely exposed to regular waves of attack.
Bedoya was making his way along the right side occasionally, but it was the threatening forward runs of Fabian Johnson that were causing the biggest nuisance for the Portuguese side. To be fair to Ronaldo, he is still unfit from his earlier injury which he has carried into the tournament, possibly affecting his defensive contribution. Coach Paulo Bento realised this and the importance of addressing the issue, Miguel Veloso was shifted from defensive midfield to that side and with him came more of a defensive player than what Almeida offered, but this did little to deter the US.
De Andre Yedlin was eventually brought into the game in place of Bedoya and it was his cross from the right hand side that started the move for the second US goal after a bit of a scramble in the box. Though we must take that injury into consideration, the US always seemed to be successful from the side that Ronaldo was meant to play, with the 29-yr-old moving to the other side and doing little to provide cover for Pereira either. It’s an issue Bento will have to address in the last game against a Ghanaian side thriving on it’s wing play, while the US will have to be prepared for a more assured wide defensive system against the Germans.
Against Ghana Klinsmann set his side up with a diamond formation but opted to shift to a 4-2-3-1 system with Bradley often dropping in to make it a three man deep midfield. It was obvious that the US would struggle with a direct diamond formation. The change in system kept in mind the attacking threat Portugal could offer (‘could’ being the key word).
But the US midfield set-up did more for it’s own attack rather than containing that of the Portuguese. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman sat in deep, while Michael Bradley alternated in his role, playing further forward and pressing when not in possession but occasionally dropping deep to get the play moving. He initially did this by spreading play with his long balls but eventually Jones and Beckerman settled in to the role quickly enough and didn’t need the ex-Roma midfielder in that zone.
Jermaine Jones was the stand out performer, crucial in breaking play up but often finding himself moving forward to support the attack. It was his pass down the right that set-up that important 2nd goal and in fact, Jones had a key role to play in helping the US exploit that weak side of Portugal’s defence constantly. Jones did this throughout the game, completing 5 of his 7 long balls; he also made 3 interceptions, one less than his midfield partner Beckerman (according to WhoScored). Their play allowed Bradley to have a more influential role in attack, one that sometimes he may not be afforded. To cap of his performance he also scored that smashing equalising goal. The US midfield played a big part in keeping the Portuguese attack as sober as it was, primarily not allowing any space for the midfield to connect with the attack; Ronaldo thus was disappointing in this role as well, as were Nani & Eder (no surprise there).
A common feature for both these sides was how weak they were in the final third, despite sharing four goals between them. While they both used their own methods of attack, a lot of the game was played in the final third with an incredible 36 shots shared between the teams. A majority of these shorts were weak efforts and didn’t really threaten either goal.
Both sides found it hard to complete passes in this attacking third with Portugal actually being more successful at it. The reason for Portugal’s ineffectiveness was the weakness in their attack; Eder was largely wasteful both with getting shots off and completing passes, easily being disposed off the ball and failing to keep possession. Nani had a quiet game following the early goal while Ronaldo was clearly lacking in match fitness, effort and impact. His shots were unusually weak and off target while he was constantly out done by a solid US defensive system.
The American’s own inefficiency can be down to inconsistency. The likes of Dempsey and Bradley are capable of pulling off some heroics but they often fail to do so on a consistent basis; their decision making in the final third is questionable. Bradley specifically though should have managed to put himself on the scoresheet against an almost completely open goal. There wasn’t much else offered in the final third, Bedoya/Yedlin & Zusi were tasked with the wide area while Jones occasionally laid a helping hand. Both teams will need to look at their final third approach to ensure better competency and effectiveness.
This would undoubtedly have to be given to Jermaine Jones. After an equally impressive performance vs Ghana, Jones replicated his success with a fantastic contribution in defence and attack, culminating in that goal. He was instrumental in ensuring the Portuguese’s influence in between the lines was negligible while he also offered a threat to their defence. He and Beckerman are certainly forming a good understanding in midfield.
The US still have a good chance of making it out of the group, though a difficult game against the Germans isn’t one to burst with confidence. They know a result of any form would see them through, while a defeat leaves them precariously hoping the other result works in their favour.
For the Portuguese, progress looks bleak with a lot depending on other results. They have to beat Ghana with a couple of goals atleast and hope that Germany & USA don’t play out a draw. But the biggest task in hand for a disappointing Portuguese side is somehow getting a win, let alone by a decent margin.
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