John Brooks shot to international fame when the defender rose above the Ghana defence to head USA’s winner in a 2-1 victory last week. Captain Clint Dempsey broke the deadlock inside 60 seconds in that Group G opener, but it was Jurgen Klinsmann’s men who were slow starters on Sunday night. Having defended so stoutly against the Africans, Geoff Cameron’s hashed clearance fell to Nani and the Portugal forward defied his Manchester United form to fire the Europeans into a fifth-minute lead. It was a disastrous goal to concede, resulting from a series of errors by the American defence. But in true Rocky Balboa spirit, USA dug deep and found a foothold in the Group G encounter despite the odds being stacked against them, led inevitably by Michael Bradley and Dempsey. And the sustained pressure on Portugal’s creaking defence finally paid dividends in the second half. Paulo Bento’s men failed to clear a corner and Jermaine Jones curled a delicious strike low into the Portugal net. It was a true Hollywood goal. USA could have settled for a point which would have moved them level with Germany and needing just a draw against the Group G leaders in the final game of the group stage. But USA continued their fearless approach and, deservedly, Dempsey netted what looked like being the winner nine-minutes from time. Highlighting Portugal’s defensive deficiencies, the former Fulham man proved the pinball wizard as he somehow managed to guide the ball into the net using his torso after frenetic Portuguese defending. But USA’s cavalier approach was cruelly punished in the dying minutes of the match, with Klinsmann’s men failing to see the game out and Silvestre Varela crashing home a dramatic leveller with 60 seconds remaining.
We’re still waiting for Cristiano Ronaldo to burst into life at this World Cup – and he may not have a chance to do so beyond Portugal’s final group-stage fixture. The Real Madrid forward is in his prime and ready to do what Eusebio couldn’t – lead Portugal to World Cup glory. His nemesis Lionel Messi has already lit up the major tournament with crucial strikes in victories over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran. The world’s third-best player Luis Suarez cast aside doubts over his fitness following a knee operation with a brilliant double against England to resurrect Uruguay’s World Cup. Ronaldo could hardly be criticised for having so little an impact in Germany’s 4-0 victory over 10-man Portugal, but the Madrid man was far from his best against the USA. The Portugal captain showcased his superb close control with a couple of tricks to dodge past five USA opponents, but it was his only real contribution in the first half. It was a theme that continued into the second half as Ronaldo grew increasingly frustrated with Eder and Nani. When the Fifa Ballon d’Or winner was finally given the chance to stretch his legs and line up a shot on Tim Howard’s goal, Ronaldo miscued his strike horribly wide. The former Manchester United striker did produce a world-class cross for Varela, but judging by Ronaldo’s reaction at full-time when he angrily pulled off his armband, the forward knows his World Cup is effectively done.
Group G was one of three so-called Group of Deaths at the World Cup. England and Spain supporters would make strong cases for Group B and Group D but in terms of entertainment value and sheer fine margins between the sides, Group G appears to be the real Group of Death. Many expected Germany to secure their last-16 spot on Saturday night but Ghana came from behind to seal a point and keep their slim hopes alive. Portugal hoped to bounce back from a 4-0 defeat by Germany with an emphatic win against USA, but Klinsmann’s men showed character to salvage a result against the Euro 2004 finalists. For 13 minutes, it appeared the Americans were going to go into the final game top of the group – and who would have thought that a possibility before the tournament began? But after a 2-2 draw, German Klinsmann now needs a point against his compatriots to secure their place in the knockout phase, while Portugal must hope Germany comfortably beat USA and Bento’s men thrash Ghana. It is still all to play for…
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