U.S. can make knockout stage with win over Portugal


U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann celebrates with his team after their Group G victory over Ghana in Natal, Brazil during the 2014 World Cup on June 16, 2014. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Carl De Souza

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MANAUS, Brazil - In the heat and humidity of this Amazon city, Team USA finds itself in a favorable position against Portugal Sunday that can determine its immediate World Cup future.

After Ghana's (0-1-1) surprising 2-2 draw with Group G favorite Germany (1-0-1) Saturday, the Americans (1-0) can book a spot in the Round of 16 with a win at Arena de Amazonia that would move them to the top of the group.

"Just another motivating factor," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "It just gets us through the group. That gives us everything. We're going to go into the game to fight tooth and nail. That's a good result. We can win and take care of business and the rest is history."

If the Americans prevail, they would register two group-stage wins in the same World Cup for the second time after they accomplished the feat in the 1930 Cup.

A tie would not be as good, but it would push the USA one step closer to getting out of the Group of Death with a match against Germany remaining.

USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who left a news conference to watch the end of the Germany match, returned to the room with a smile.

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"It just confirms what we all knew from the beginning," he said. "It is a very difficult group. It puts [our] positive result against Ghana [a 2-1 win] in the right perspective. It's a huge opportunity."

The heat is on big time for Portugal (0-1) and striker Cristiano Ronaldo. A loss would eliminate them.

"Either we win or we start making our suitcase," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. "If we draw, we practically pack our suitcase."

Klinsmann, a former World Cup winner as a player in 1990 who coached Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 Cup, understood what was at stake.

"This is now the moment where you can prove yourself," he said. "This is the moment where you can step up and play those guys and put them in place. We want to put Cristiano and his team in place . . . We want to make it our game. We're not worried about any of the other players at all."

Ronaldo, who is nursing a knee injury, was put in his place against Germany, underachieving in a 4-0 defeat.

The Americans have not been intimidated by the 29-year-old striker, considered by many the best player in the world.

"How do you stop him? You steal the ball from him," center back Matt Besler said. "He's human. He's not a super hero."

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Howard, a former teammate of Ronaldo on Manchester United, said the Portuguese superstar who plays for Real Madrid has every skill in the book.

"We are going to do our best to bottle him up, which hasn't been done in four or five years," he said. "But we're going to see what we can do."

But Howard warned about focusing on Ronaldo. "You can get caught up too much," he said. "If we play so much attention to Ronaldo, someone else can beat us."

Lost in the Ronaldo spotlight is that Portugal could miss as many as five players. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio (muscle) and two key defenders -- Pepe (red-card suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (thigh injury) are definitely sidelined.

Klinsmann also has some decisions to make to replace injured striker Jozy Altidore (left hamstring strain). He can start Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski or use five midfielders instead of the usual four and utilize Clint Dempsey as the lone forward.

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Dempsey, who suffered a broken nose against Ghana, was replaced in the news conference by midfielder Jermaine Jones. His absence raised eyebrows about his health.

"No, no Clint is all good, good to go," Klinsmann said. "We're just trying to rotate the players for you guys."

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