SÃO PAULO – Monday already seems so long ago. The United States' win over Ghana on that night undoubtedly made a mark – reaction videos continue to roll in for John Brooks' game-winning goal. Talk about the team has started to permeate mainstream sports media in the U.S.
But at the moment, all head coach Jurgen Klinsmann cares about is Portugal. After months of preparation focused squarely on a game which has now been won, the trick for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be keeping its heads level, cramming preparations for a stronger opponent into a fraction of the time.
"I think we’ve switched gears already," Klinsmann told the press in the team's first training session since returning to their São Paulo home base from Natal on Tuesday. "It was a very tricky game, as you all saw. But our mind is 100 percent on Portugal from now on, since last night already.”
As a means to that end, Klinsmann has focused the first of the team's days between games on recovery. Players that started or played 45 minutes against Ghana were given a lighter load in training on Tuesday, and the entire team was given Wednesday off to spend with friends and family in São Paulo. The team still waits on the status of striker Jozy Altidore, who left in the first half of the win over Ghana with a strained left hamstring. His potential absence could be crucial against a Portugal side that doesn’t boast nearly as much athleticism as Ghana, and could struggle to deal with Altidore’s off-ball work rate and sheer physicality.
Klinsmann stayed tight-lipped about who might step in for Altidore, with Chris Wondolowski and Aron Jóhannsson the obvious front-runners should the U.S. elect to play in a similar formation to the one it put out against Ghana. However, the style of both players differs significantly from Altidore.
"When one of your key players is not available, does it change certain things? Absolutely it does," Klinsmann said. "We’ll still field 11, you know, we’re not a man down. We still have somebody coming in and we’ll make it very, very difficult for Portugal in Manaus."
Portugal has already had a fair amount of difficulties to deal with. Though he played 90 minutes in Portugal's opening game, FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo has been hobbled by a thigh injury and his status for Sunday’s game has been a constant source of speculation. Wing back Fabio Coentrão, perhaps Portugal’s most important player outside of Ronaldo, has been ruled out for the tournament with a thigh injury. Added to that, Portugal will be without central defender Pepe, who will serve a one-game suspension after head-butting Thomas Muller and receiving a red card in the team’s opening game.
That’s to say nothing of the team’s performance in that game, a 4-0 rout at the hands of Germany in which the Portuguese were second best in nearly every facet.
“It’s a difficult situation for them now, after that defeat, they are with their backs against the wall,” Klinsmann said. “It makes it even more difficult for us to get a result, but that’s what you want. That’s what a World Cup is about.”
As far as this World Cup goes, though, a team having its back against the wall may be just one step on the way out of the room altogether. After Spain was humiliated in a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands in its opening game, the world champions secured an early flight home with a 2-0 loss to Chile on Wednesday. Likewise, a good result in an opener doesn’t necessarily mean that momentum has been established – Brazil followed its flashy 3-1 win over Croatia with a 0-0 draw against Mexico.
Not that any other teams’ results will come up in team meetings, of course; nor should they.
“We only talk now about how we can beat this Portuguese team with all of these amazing players that they have,” Klinsmann said. “This is our goal and we believe in it. We believe that we can go to Manaus and beat them.”