Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — U.S. Men’s National Team fans might still be buzzing about the Americans’ World Cup win vs. Ghana, but Jurgen Klinsmann is urging his side to have short-term memory ahead of a showdown with Portugal.
The U.S. beat Ghana for the first time in three World Cup attempts this past Monday to move into second place of Group G, but Klinsmann wants his players to move past that dramatic 2-1 victory and focus solely on Sunday’s battle against Portugal. That’s not just because the Americans will meet a Portuguese team hungry for points after suffering a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Germany, but also because a win could give the U.S. head coach and his players an early passage into the Round of 16.
“It’s always difficult for the coaches to move (the team) on from an emotional ending of a game and into the next game and always telling the players, ‘Stay on the ground, stay focused, and the next game is even more difficult than the one we just played,’” said Klinsmann. “That’s what we’re trying to do and hope it works out. That’s why we wanted badly to come back right away after the game here to Sao Paulo and make it clear that the only thing we talk about is Portugal.”
Whether Portugal has the ailing Cristiano Ronaldo or not for the match at Arena Amazonia in Manaus, Klinsmann is fully expecting a tougher encounter than his side experienced against Ghana. Portugal have a bevy of skillful players, including Nani and Joao Moutinho, and a concentrated and improved effort will be required of the U.S. in order to grab three more points.
That is another reason why Klinsmann does not want his players looking back at the triumph over Ghana, regardless of how good it felt and how much is being made about it stateside.
“Portugal is definitely a different caliber than Ghana. It’s one of the favorites actually for that tournament and has very exceptional players,” said Klinsmann. “We are well aware of that, but we are not starting now comparing them with Ghana or whatever. Ghana is way back now, is out of our minds and we’ll try to tell every player enough information on (Portugal) but not overdoing it as well because we still have to focus on our game.
“We want to play, we have very, very good players on our end as well and we have the confidence now to go into that game and say, ‘We’re here, we’re here. We want to beat you. We want to get into the next round’ so our approach is not to go to Manaus and defend a 1-1 or 0-0 or whatever it is. We go there and we want to win this game.”
The Americans have apparently already jumped on board with that approach, especially since upsetting Portugal would lead to an early qualification for the knockout phase of the World Cup if Group G leader Germany also ousts Ghana a day earlier.
“(Monday) night we were enjoying ourselves and everything and now we’ve got to recuperate – our bodies are banged up a bit – and put all of our focus on Portugal,” said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. “I think we’ll be able to do it.”
The U.S. looks likely to be without its top striker in Jozy Altidore, who underwent an MRI on Tuesday on the left hamstring strain he sustained against Ghana. That’s a big blow to Americans’ cause as they do not have another forward on the roster who can bring similar qualities.
Still, Klinsmann is more than confident that his team can get the job done no matter who is or isn’t on the field.
“We’re well prepared for Portugal,” said Klinsmann. “We watched their entire qualifying campaign, we’ve analyzed all their individual players – like they do about us as well – so that work is all done (and) then you obviously watch that game against Germany, too, we get a couple of information about things that happened there (Sunday) afternoon, and then you do your own thing.
“I believe that we are very well prepared with a lot of respect that we have for that Portuguese team. It’s a difficult situation for them now after that 4-0 defeat, they are with their backs against the wall. That makes it even more difficult to get a result, but that’s what you want. That’s what a World Cup is about. We also have the chance with a win to hopefully qualify already. This can’t get any better.”