2014 FIFA World Cup: What we learned, Day 5
Here's what we learned on Day 5 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
At the end of each day of action at the 2014 World Cup, our writers weigh in on what we learned from each match.
Germany showed why it is a tournament favorite: Germany is in the group of four teams that seemingly everyone has reaching the semifinal and final, along with Brazil, Spain and Argentina. And they did nothing to dissuade that sentiment on Monday. Even with Portugal's discipline issues, Germany looked the part for most of the 90 minutes. Portugal had a few chances on the counterattack early on, but Germany was solid throughout the match and never seemed on the back foot after the opening minutes. They have a long list of quality attackers to choose from up front, along with midfielders like Toni Kroos and Semi Khedira. The centerbacks are very good, and Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. There are few weaknesses when healthy.
Back-line depth will be tested going forward: Both teams will have questions marks along the backline going forward. Portugal will be without Pepe for Sunday's match against the United States, as the Real Madrid center back was given a straight red card for headbutting Thomas Muller (above). Moreover, left back Fabio Coentrao had to be removed after what looked like a pulled hamstring in the second half. He had to be carted to the locker room, and his status going forward is up in the air. Ricardo Costa replaced Pepe, and Andre Almeida replaced Coentrao -- but that's a huge drop off. Portugal used the same back four in all 10 qualifying matches and every match in Euro 2012; they lack depth back there. Germany is in a similar position, as center back Mats Hummels looked like he injured his knee going up for a header in the second half. Germany has made some adjustments to their back line, with right back Phillipp Lahm moving to a holding midfielder position and Jerome Boateng going from center back to right back. If Hummels misses time, it will be interesting to see if Lahm moves back to a fullback position.
Ronaldo was a non-factor for most of the 90 minutes: Like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo has never been the same player for club and country. This is a player who has surpassed the 50-goal mark in his last four seasons with Real Madrid, but only has two World Cup goals to his name. His performance against Sweden in the two-leg qualifying playoff gave Portugal supporters optimism that he would bring his club form to Brazil. Ronaldo, though, wasn't his dominant self against Germany. He made a few forays on the counter in the first half, but couldn't find the back of the net. After Germany went up by three goals, Ronaldo seemed mentally checked out. His runs weren't the same, his take-ons didn't carry the same aggression. Even his free kicks -- aside from his on-target attempt in extra time -- were off. No country relies on one player as much as Portugal does with Ronaldo; he can't have a repeat performance against the United States.
Portugal is in a huge hole: It's not just the loss, or the injuries, or the red card, or the goal differential. It's all of them. In the "Group of Death," Germany was the favorite -- but Portugal was right behind them. They were expected to play Germany close, then be the frontrunners against the United States and Ghana. Given the way they played on Monday, it's not as clear-cut as that. Even before Monday, Portugal looked like a beatable side. They're aging, banged up -- and still far too reliant on Ronaldo. After Monday, Ghana and the U.S. -- especially the latter -- will have optimism. The goal differential is now -4, Pepe is out for Sunday's match, Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida are injured -- and their confidence is waning. Will Portugal be able to bounce back?
Yawning makes your jaw hurt after a while: If you were working or napping or walking or breathing or doing pretty much anything aside from watching these two teams play Monday, your afternoon was more exciting than mine. Ninety minutes of grueling action without a goal can really take a toll on a guy. Both sides had a few sniffs at goal, but that's pretty much it. There wasn't even an erroneous offsides call to wipe away a score or anything. It was easily the biggest dud of the Cup thus far. The fact that the game was sandwiched between a dominant Germany performance and the U.S.-Ghana classic didn't help matters.
Look forward: Miraculously, Nigeria boasts a side fully capable of reaching the knockout stage. That may come as a shock, but a favorable result against World Cup first-timers Bosnia-Herzegovina Saturday and the Nigerians are back in business. Of course, they'll have to score a goal for that to happen. To be fair, Nigeria was able to generate plenty of chances early against Iran, but, again, they were fruitless. That won't work out well in the coming matches for them.
Iran has a taller task ahead of them, as they'll face Argentina in their next match -- a side not likely to whiff on numerous goal opportunities. Good luck, guys.
Maybe, just maybe, this US team can advance: It wasn't out of the question that the US could entertain thoughts of getting out of Group G with just a tie, but Monday's win sets it up extremely well moving forward. John Brooks' heroics ensures that the US can face Portugal next Sunday without having to fret about other teams in the group. The US has a chance against Portugal, especially with how vulnerable its backline looked Monday against Germany. Toss in the absence of Pepe and the possible injuries to Hugo Almeida along with Fabio Coentrao, and the US has significant reason to be confident. This team is so young, by design I might add, that Monday's win will give it untold confidence against the perennial contenders.
US depth: The US reserves were tested on Monday and fortunately, after some (very) tense moments in the back from Brooks, he came through in just about the biggest way possible. In fact, it's the first time a sub has ever scored for the US in the World Cup, so well done. However, the US doesn't know the extent of Matt Besler's injury -- he played well in the first half before subbing out with a thigh injury -- so it may be on Brooks, a 21-year-old German-American, to hold down the fort against Ronaldo and company.
Stopping Portugal and eventually Germany's offense is probably the biggest concern, but Besler's substitution was a precautionary measure whereas Aron Johannsson's was out of necessity. Jozy Altidore's hamstring injury looked pretty awful and he was eventually carried off. That being said, I don't think Johannsson is necessarily a downgrade. He's big, can hold possession of the ball like Altidore, and has shown he can score both for club and country. (He's especially dangerous in the air). While Altidore is certainly a loss, there's not as big a drop-off in terms of talent at the striker position. Whether this forces Klinsmann to alter his formation, we'll have to see.
Can't see that kind of pressure again: Pardon the US-centric analysis, but this is the same team that lost to Ghana in consecutive World Cups, so here goes. Frankly, the US is lucky to have won Monday's game. There was rarely any semblance of offense aside from counterattacks. That was somewhat expected, but the defense and Tim Howard were desperate for a break as Ghana's wingers continued to pound the edges of the field. Michael Bradley didn't look too confident on Monday, and he's vital to holding possession. His passes weren't as sharp and he didn't seem keen on dictating play, as he had in so many qualifiers. Possession had to be around 65-35 and Ghana's strikers found three times as many shots as did the US forwards. That can't happen against even better offenses, and Bradley knows it.
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