Photo by Ben Queenborough/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
MANAUS, Brazil — Portugal is going to have to dig real deep in order to obtain the three World Cup points it sorely needs and desperately wants.
Portugal and the U.S. Men’s National Team will lock horns at Arena Amazonia on Sunday evening, but the Portuguese enter the Group G match they adamantly hope to win decimated by injuries and a suspension.
Left back Fabio Coentrao, striker Hugo Almeida and starting goalkeeper Rui Patricio will miss the rumble in the jungle with thigh problems, centerback Bruno Alves is a game-time decision with a thigh issue of his own and central defender Pepe is suspended after picking up a red card in the humiliating 4-0 loss to Germany. That is nothing to say of the left knee injury that superstar winger Cristiano Ronaldo has been allegedly ailing from but is expected to play through.
Needless to say, Portugal’s depth will be tested against a U.S. side looking to clinch an early place in the Round of 16.
“We know that there are difficulties but we can’t worry too much about the decisions on one or two players,” said Portugal head coach Paulo Bento. “That’s not the right way to go. Otherwise, we should start packing our suitcases and go home. But what we have to do is we have to continue to play thinking we’re going to win and then play against Ghana and then continue in the tournament”
Portugal is a team that likes few things more than attacking on the counter and Bento could not be blamed for taking a more defensive-minded approach given the current rash of injuries on his team. But that will not be the case on Sunday, as Bento plans on having his side attack in order to get goals and its first victory of the tournament.
“We have to get 1-0 first and then run the risk and then we will run the risk,” said Bento when asked about how he plans on making up the goal differential. “But first of all, we have to have a team that is sure of itself and will control all the situations of the game because we are up against a difficult situation.”
That approach would seem to put more of the attacking load on the shoulders of Ronaldo, who has carried the Portuguese through tough matches in the past. The reigning Ballon d’Or winner did so most recently in the second leg of a World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden by scoring four goals in a memorable performance, but Bento does not want to put any added pressure on his star player as the U.S. encounter draws near.
After all, there will be 10 other Portuguese players on the field who will need to help make a difference in order to avoid a disappointing and premature departure from Brazil.
“If we think we’re going to solve our problems only with the best player in the world, that’s a terrible mistake,” Bento said. “What brought us here was obviously the fact that we do have the best player in the world, but we have other players who support him and gave us the possibility of winning the play-offs and also in the qualifying phase.”
A draw would technically keep Portugal’s chances of advancing alive, but he does not see that as enough. He wants the three points and only three points regardless of how depleted his side is.
“We have 90 minutes to play and 90 minutes to win,” said Bento, “and that’s what we have to do.”