Look at this guy. Seriously, just look at him. It's almost too easy to hate on Cristiano Ronaldo. If you don't hate him, then just read The Evster's guide to hating him. You will. That doesn't make it not-fun, mind you, but Ronaldo-hate is for amateurs. And since you've been staying up to date with The Level's World Cup coverage, you are FAR from an amateur at this point. Everyone watching the now-even-more-important USA-Portugal match (6 p.m. - ESPN) with you tonight* will hate on Ronaldo (or swoon over him, depending on who you're with). (*You are watching with some people, right? You have plenty of options.) Here's a few more reasons to hate* on Portugal, followed by some actual sort-of soccer points. (*I'm using "hate" in the good clean fun sports sense. I'm a nice guy who doesn't hate anyone. Except J.D. Drew. Eff that guy).
1. Raul Meireles
Who He Is: A midfielder who plays in the shadow of Ronaldo, as every Portuguese midfielder does. That's the way Cristiano likes it. Why You Should Hate Him: Just look at his stupid face. He looks like the love child of Brian Wilson and Marvin the Martian. Or really, he just looks like Brian Wilson. And who likes that guy? Why You Will Hate Him: He's the guy most likely to injure an American hero. With the king of the dirty tackle, Raul, out from a red card after head-butting a German, Meireles is the guy most likely to slide tackle Michael Bradley from behind and break his leg. He's also pretty damn good. Why He Won't Matter: Because Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman will eat him alive, and Bradley will find a seam behind him to set up an American goal.
2. Nani Who He Is: A right-side midfielder who doesn't like to pass, and will be the target of multiple Ronaldo "why aren't you as good as me?" head shakes. Why You Should Hate Him: First of all, he plays for Manchester United. Oh, that's not enough for you? He goes by one name like he's freakin' Brazilian. Sure, Portugal and Brazil speak the same language, but you can't just do the single-name thing. Why You Will Hate Him: He'll make one or two solo moves in the first half that make an American player (likely Damarcus Beasley) look really silly. Why He Won't Matter: Because once he makes that fancy move to beat Beasley, he'll be so proud of himself that he'll start hamming for the camera and get dispossessed. Also, in the second half, he'll remember that he doesn't ever put out more than 45 minutes of effort, and become a non-factor.
3. Joao Moutinho Who He Is: Portugal's playmaker and main conduit to Cristiano Ronaldo. He'll have the ball more than any other Portuguese player, and will spend his entire day trying to set up Ronaldo so he doesn't get yelled at after the game. Why You Should Hate Him: He's that guy you hated in your pickup football/basketball/other football/softball game. The little tiny dude (he's listed at 5-foot-7) who you take one look at and think you can "take," and then he embarrasses you in front of the girl you have a crush on... then takes the girl. Why You Will Hate Him: If the Portuguese find a way past the midfield brick wall of Jones and Beckerman (a big "if"), Moutinho is likely going to be the guy who starts the move. Why He Won't Matter: Because Nani will probably steal the ball from him by-accident-on-purpose (this happened against Germany) and then shove him like those two Cameroonian guys did the other night.
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So now you know who to hate, and you already know where to watch, it's time to put the ball down and get moving.
The Americans are clearly hurt without Jozy Altidore (who apparently fell victim to The 700 Level Photoshop jinx). But, defender Matt Besler and forward Clint Dempsey are good to go after injuries against Ghana, and will both likely start.
The only changes you MIGHT see from the opener will be either Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski in place of Altidore, and possibly Graham Zusi starting over Alejandro Bedoya. There is a slight chance Dempsey starts as a lone striker and they clog things up for Ronaldo with another midfielder, but I'm hoping Jurgen Klinsmann is more positive than that.
For much more (MUCH MUCH more) on the tactics for the match (seriously, you can really impress your friends), check out The Shin Guardian's preview.
With the Germany-Ghana draw on Saturday, the United States would secure a spot in the knockout stage with a win over Portugal. They would then need a draw or better against Germany to win the group.
- A win and a draw in any order, would secure first place in the group.
- A win and a loss in any order would be enough to advance.
- Two draws would be enough to advance (likely as second place).
So, a loss against Portugal wouldn't the end, but it's BAD. The Americans would then need a win against a German team that can't rest any starters in the final game. I believe there is also a mathematical way to advance with two losses, but it's not likely. (UPDATE: Commenter Rick (thanks Rick!) checks my math and proves there is no way for the U.S. to advance with two losses.)
Does first place matter? Yes. The group winner will likely face South Korea, Russia or Algeria in the cooler southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. The second-place finisher likely draws a strong Belgium squad in much-warmer Salvador.
My prediction for the first match -- a 3-1 American win -- wasn't too far off, although I predicted two Altidore goals. Close enough.
As for this match? The U.S. takes a surprising 2-0 lead, then holds on at the end as we all age 20 years in the final 10 minutes:
USA 2, Portugal 1.
Nothing to hate about that.