At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Match of the Day: Great Nation vs. Greatest Player

I have to preach across the river in Illinois on Sunday, so I'm sending out my Match of the Day preview a step early.

Belgium vs. Russia is an intriguing clash, but I should be shot if I select any other game than the USA vs. Portugal.

On paper, the US seems to have all the momentum. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is pushing all the right buttons, Tim Howard is playing outstanding in goal, and the timely scoring has taken away a level of anxiety over getting gassed down the stretch against what's turned out to be a strong Ghana team (witness their 2-2 tie against Germany today). But the US is a little banged up. It will be interesting to see how Clint Dempsey plays through his broken nose and if Jozy Altidore can play through the searing pain of his hamstring, which he yanked like you're starting a mower.

Portugal likewise is banged up. Two starters out with injuries, and defender Pepe is barred from the pitch due to a red card for head butting Thomas Muller in the Portuguese collapse against the Germans. Not to mention that the Wonder of the Universe and Gift of the Gods, Cristiano Ronaldo, is facing up to a knee injury that he won't let keep him down. Give him credit, though, for wanting to play through (when I received word of his injury, I thought at first his hairdo suffered a dislocated hair follicle). 

The US finished strong against Ghana, but can they turn up their jets a second straight time? We saw today Germany's struggles in trying to stay motivated for game number two in group. And Portugal never really showed up against the Germans, but facing elimination, they might flash a good bit of anger and come out roaring. 

Bottom line: This will not be a walkover. At the very least, I'm saying no more than a one-goal differential either way.

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