June 21, 2014
By Michael Lewis
U.S. hopes to stop Cristiano Ronaldo
MANAUS, Brazil -- He is considered by many to be best soccer player in the world and he just might be the first one to tell you that, his ego is so enormous.
He can score goals in bunches and turn a match on its head if you give him some space.
Yet, the United States players aren't intimidated by Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo as they prepare to make some World Cup history in the heat and humidity at Arena da Amazonia Sunday.
After Ghana's (0-1-1) surprising 2-2 draw with Group G favorite Germany (1-0-1) Saturday, the Americans (1-0) can book a spot in the Round of 16 with a win over Portugal (0-1) at Arena de Amazonia.
"Just another motivating factor," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "It just gets us through the group. That gives us everything. We're going to go into the game to fight tooth and nail. That's a good result. We can win and take care of business and the rest is history."
If the Americans prevail, they would register two group-stage wins in the same World Cup for the second time after accomplished the feat in the 1930 Cup.
U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who left a press conference to watch the end of the German match, returned to the room with a smile.
"It just confirms what we all knew from the beginning," he said. "It is a very difficult group. It puts the positive result against Ghana [a 2-1 win] in the right perspective. Itís huge opportunity."
Portugal has its backs against the wall and faces a must-win situation if it has any desire of staying alive.
"Either we win or we start making our suitcase," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. "If we draw, we practically pack our suitcase."
While stopping Ronaldo -- the reigning FIFA world player of the year -- seemed to be an imposing task, the USA players were not fazed at all.
"How do you stop him? You steal the ball from him," said Sporting Kansas City and USA center back Matt Besler, who has been given the go-ahead to play after leaving the 2-1 win over Ghana at halftime with tightness in his right hamstring. "He's human. He's not a super hero. At the end of the day, we're all soccer players. He's the best soccer player in the world, so it's going to be difficult. But there's nothing that he does is just so overwhelming that you can't stop."
You usually can see Ronaldo streaking down the left side of the field, finding ways to make life miserable for opponents, combining his speed, strength and skills to get free to fire off one of his lethal shots. He also happens to be quite dangerous on free kicks as he is given the time to figure out whether he will drill his shot past the goalkeeper or curve it around the defensive wall and into the net.
"We'd like to avoid the one-on-one situations," Besler said. "We'd always like to have covered. Maybe its two guys, maybe its three guys at times just containing him and always knowing where he's at it."
Besler, however, noted that Portugal was far from a one-man show.
"It's not going to be a situation where 100 percent of our focus is going to be on Cristiano because he's one player," he said. "It's the team that wins."
Klinsmann, a former World Cup winner who directed Germany to a third-place finish in 2006, realized what was at stake.
"This is now the moment where you can prove yourself," he said. "This is the moment where you can step up and play those guys and put them in place. We want to put Cristiano and his team in place. ... We want to make it our game. We're not worried about any of the other players at all."
Lost in the spotlight on Ronaldo is that Portugal could miss as many as five players. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio (muscle) and two key defenders -- Pepe (red-card suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (thigh injury) are out.
Dempsey, who suffered a broken nose against Ghana, was replaced in the press conference by midfielder Jermaine Jones. His absence certainly raised eyebrows in the media about his health.
"No, no Clint is all good, good to go," Klinsmann said. "We're just trying to rotate the players for you guys."