The United States gritted out the guttiest of gutty wins against Ghana tonight, using a John Brooks header in the 87th minute to pick up three points and set itself up for advancement in Group G.
However, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Next up is going to be an angry, beaten down Portugal side that just lost 4-0 to Germany and is still licking its wounds.
And as beatable as Portugal looked as they slumped to an embarrassing defeat to a European powerhouse, it’s important to remember that this Portugal team is about as opposite from Ghana and Nigeria as it’s possible to be.
That means Jurgen Klinsmann is going to have to completely reinvent his lineup. Again.
All of the buildup the last six months has been to this match with Ghana. Now that it’s over, the team must look ahead. Portugal possesses a very dangerous combination of power and speed, which it flashed at times against Germany despite the disappointing overall performance. They are a very European team, one that passes precisely and finishes efficiently.
Down to 10 men for most of the match, Portugal still managed to fire off 399 passes, completing 349 of them for an 87% completion rate. They had created six chances already by the time Pepe was sent off in the 34th minute, according to Opta statistics.
German defenders Per Mertesacker, Philipp Lahm, and Mats Hummels were brilliant at the back, providing pinpoint tackles to stop the Portuguese attacks down the middle and shadowing Cristiano Ronaldo with precise care.
The United States doesn’t have anybody of their quality in defense, and it will require defensive creativity by Klinsmann to cover Ronaldo while preventing massive gaps forming in the middle when the defense shades to his side.
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Klinsmann’s talisman against both Nigeria and then Ghana was the midfield triangle of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Kyle Beckerman set up in a 4-3-2-1. While Bradley struggled individually against Ghana, the triangle still successfully pegged down the Ghanian attack in the middle of the field, forcing them to go out wide.
Unfortunately for the US, Portugal is just as deadly out wide as they are through the middle, and with Cristiano Ronaldo out on the wing and roaming into the middle of the box, it’s not as straightforward stopping their presence up front.
It will be interesting to see how Klinsmann changes his squad to match up with Portugal, but one thing you can guarantee is the strategy against Ghana will be doomed against the Portuguese. It’s a different test altogether, and no matter how poorly they opened Group G play with, the Portuguese will push the US to the brink.
Klinsmann has always wanted the squad to be flexible in its ability to play against different types of opponents and styles of play. With one test passed, a new one arises, and flexible they must be.