Half a minute. That’s all that stood between the U.S. team and progression into the Round of 16. They just needed to keep Portugal out for another thirty seconds…
I probably watched the replay of that closing sequence in Manaus twenty times last night. When the ball comes to Bradley near the half-way line, all he really needs to do is hoof it up the field, or into the stands. Instead, he takes a heavy first touch, the ball squirts away from him, and he’s muscled off of it by one of the four Portuguese midfielders swarming around him. Once that happens, everything else seems inevitable: the ball being sprayed out wide to Ronaldo, the inch-perfect cross flying into the box, Varela’s header flying past a helpless Tim Howard. And then it was over.
So how’s a U.S. fan supposed to feel after two games in Brazil? Confused, I think, because our boys have somehow found a way to disappoint us while playing better (and getting better results) than most of us expected. The Ghana match was a throwback to gritty American performances from past tournaments: very little possession, desperate defending, a goal from a set piece, straight out of the underdog’s playbook. The Portugal game was a different story. Here was the evolution we’d been promised. We kept the ball, passed it around well, created chances. Of course, we benefited from the fact that Portugal was missing a couple of first-choice players, and Christiano Ronaldo was operating at less than 100%. Even a diminished Portugual side, though, is stuffed with experienced players from Europe’s top leagues, and we’ve not fared well historically against European opposition. Outplaying them meant something.
Unfortunately, moral victories aren’t much good in the standings, so here we sit with four points. And that honestly seems about right (for as much as we might feel like we deserved to beat Portugal, Ghana will feel like they deserved a draw against us). Will it be good enough to see us through to the next round, though? Well… there’s always a chance, right? We’ll park the bus against Germany, and if we can keep it 0-0 into the second half, maybe they’ll back off and take the draw that gets both of us through. My gut tells me that’s not gonna happen, though. I think Germany will score, and we’ll need to put at least one in the net. I also think that Ghana will beat Portugal by more than one goal, so we can’t count on that tiebreaker. In the end, though, I’m gonna choose to believe:
Predictions for Thursday:
Ghana beats Portugal 3-0.
U.S. draws with Germany 1-1 (Germany scores early, U.S. scores late).
Germany and the U.S. go through!