Manaus, Brazil (SportsNetwork.com) – The Arena Amazonia will host a crucial Group G contest on Sunday as the United States squares off with Portugal.
Prior to the start of the World Cup, the two nations were expected to battle one another for the runner-up spot behind group-favorite Germany, and Portugal received slightly better odds.
But after the opening round of fixtures, it is the United States that looks likely to advance.
The Americans earned a last-gasp win over Ghana on Monday to put themselves in a prime position to take second place, but the victory came at a hefty price.
Striker Jozy Altidore, a player for which the United States seems to have no like-for-like replacement, was forced out of the match in the first half with a hamstring injury. The Sunderland man pulled up quickly while chasing down a ball in the attacking third, clutching the back of his leg while grimacing in pain.
Stout defender Matt Besler also left the contest prematurely, leaving at halftime after showing a bit of discomfort in his hamstring during the final stages of the opening period.
Even captain Clint Dempsey was worse for the wear. The Seattle Sounders man broke his nose during the match after receiving a swift boot to the face, but he still managed to finish the contest.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was adamant that Besler’s substitution was strictly precautionary, indicating that he could still be fit for the clash with Portugal. But Altidore has been ruled out of the match, leaving the German tactician with a bit of a selection headache.
“We have to deal with it,” Klinsmann said of the team’s injury situation. “We feel really sorry for Jozy and hope that it’s not that bad and that we are going to get him back as quick as possible. With Matt it’s no problem. I think we made the right decision. We held him out of the game so he didn’t get any injury, so he’s all fine. Now Clint has to work with his nose. It will hurt him for a couple of days. I broke mine three or four times; it’s alright. We’ll give him a few days. But it will continue to happen to all teams, injuries, problems, issues. That’s why you have a roster of 23 players and they have to understand exactly their role no matter when they have to come on the field. So we have to prepare for Portugal and we will be very strong there as well.”
Portugal certainly figures to be a stiff test for the United States, but Paulo Bento’s side is not without its own absences.
Cristiano Ronaldo continues to battle a knee injury. The Ballon d’Or holder went the full 90 minutes in Portugal’s humiliating 4-0 loss to Germany on Monday, but he has since struggled to put together a full training session.
Ronaldo’s health is of the utmost importance to the Portuguese as they also suffered injuries to key players.
Left-back Fabio Coentrao was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament due to a severe hamstring injury while Hugo Almeida is gradually working his way back from a slightly less serious hamstring knock.
To make matters worse, Portugal will be without first-choice central defender Pepe due to suspension. The Real Madrid man was sent off against Germany for head-butting Thomas Muller, ruling the center-back out for Sunday’s meeting with the United States.