Ghana was a must-win for the United States, but Portugal will define their World Cup

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Without three points against Ghana, none of this would be possible.

The first hurdle has been cleared thanks to the now-household name John Brooks, but the real test of skill and ability arrives tonight.

With the United States set to take on Portugal in Manaus – the middle of three in the “Group of Death” – the entire spectrum of possibilities shines brightly upon the Arena da Amazonia.

The draw between Germany and Ghana has put the US in a feast-or-famine situation. A win against the #4-ranked team in the World today and the Stars & Stripes would be the first of its group to qualify for the knockout stage. Not even Germany was able to pull that off in two matches.

But just as easily, a loss or even a draw could be the start of a downward spiral that would likely come to a disappointing close against Germany.

This is where World Cups are defined for bubble teams like the United States.

Will this tournament mark the announcement of the US on the world stage as a team to contend with once every four years? Or do they remain among the middle pack for another cycle?

Jurgen Klinsmann proved against Ghana that this team has fitness, resolve, fight, and guts.  But now against Portugal, this team must prove they have skill, technical ability, and quality.

They must prove they belong.  They must earn their place.

With so much on the line, we will see not just where the United States currently stands, but where they hope to go in the future. Does this young generation of American talent have the guts to perform in such an enormous game? Or will they fail to produce the quality it takes to defeat such a

Portugal is beatable. Heck, anyone is beatable in this crazy tournament. But the US has an opportunity. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t 100%. Pepe is suspended. Fabio Coentrao is injured. The door is open to take advantage of a momentous situation.

But the important point to remember is whatever the outcome, it will likely be deserved.  Should the US slay the beast in front of them and secure their footing in the knockout round, they will deserve it.  If they stumble to the precipice of elimination, it will also likely be a just result.

Jurgen Klinsmann has the United States within reach of a win which could define the national soccer identity going forward into further building an ascending future in the sport.

It’s sort of a no-lose situation for the US. If they fail to achieve such a victory, it would by no means mark a degradation of the country’s progress made in the last 20 years.

But if they can complete the task in front of them, this band of 23 players will be known for a while as those who made the leap in Brazil.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.