Ronaldo looks to dent American dreams

James Sharman breaks down the match of the day on Sunday, a critical battle between a United States side seeking a Round of 16 berth against a Portugal team in a must-win scenario.

The United States last faced Portugal at the World Cup in 2002 and the Americans won the group stage affair 3-2. The countries will meet again at the 2014 tournament in Brazil with much still on the line in Group G.

Two Group H matches will also air on Day 11. Russia and Belgium square off, while Algeria plays South Korea in the other contest.

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Russia has to expose the Belgian defence

Russia manager Fabio Capello is one of the most accomplished coaches at the World Cup. He’s also a tactical mastermind, which was evident in the first match against South Korea. Yes, the Taegeuk Warriors got on the score sheet thanks to a howler from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Yet, had it not been for that, the Koreans would’ve most likely come away with nothing.

Russia’s squad has the capability of holding Belgium at bay. Striker Romelu Lukaku looked isolated against Algeria and the creative midfielders seemed to trip over each other trying to generate any kind of a chance. Capello’s team is organized enough to combat that.

Defensively, Belgium was a mess. Algeria utilized their width to attack the Red Devils’ Achilles heel — the lack of pace in the back line and their fullbacks to be more specific. That’s how Russia can win this match, by having Yuri Zhirkov, Alexander Kerzhakov, and Aleksandr Samedov target the flanks. If they can do that, the Russians could surprise the Belgians.

Algeria can’t slack off

For the first 45 minutes against Belgium, Algeria was able to close down their opponents and counter-attack effectively. The downside is that they only recorded three shots, their only on-target attempt being the penalty from Sofiane Feghouli.

Algeria will probably open up a bit more when necessary but they cannot repeat the second half of the Belgium game. They eventually took their foot off the gas and fell asleep at crucial moments. The defence gave too much space to Dries Mertens for his goal and didn’t recognize the aerial threat of Marouane Fellaini.

South Korea probably won’t pose the same problem in the air but they have the capabilities of outrunning and outworking Vahid Halilhodzic’s team. One lapse in concentration and the Koreans can take advantage. It’s how the speedy Mertens was able to get space for his strike.

It’s obviously easier said than done to stay focused for 90 minutes in warm weather, but if that’s Algeria’s game plan, they have to stick by it and deploy it effectively. It sure doesn’t look like they’ll be able to rely on a high-octane attack.

USA and Portugal’s fitness in the spotlight

When the United States played Ghana in Natal, several players such as Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler suffered injuries. Almost the entire backline was limping towards the end of the match. This time they’ll be in Manaus, where it’s projected to be 26 degrees Celsius with 91 percent humidity and a chance of a storm at kickoff.

Whether manager Jürgen Klinsmann overworked his players or not is a topic for another day. With the USA possibly facing Cristiano Ronaldo, it will obviously be a tough ask to contain him, even with his injury problems. Ghana were running the U.S. ragged in the second half and were hanging on by a thread.

Portugal will clearly be pushing for a win, as a loss would eliminate them from the World Cup. Even though the Portuguese are suffering through several injuries and suspensions, Paulo Bento’s squad will be firing on all cylinders and have an advantage technically and tactically. As with the U.S., however, it remains to be seen how their depleted squad reacts to the climate.

Whoever can combat the conditions the best will probably have control of the game and should win the match as a result.

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