SAO PAULO // Just after he was cut from the US squad last month, right-back Brad Evans posted this snarky tweet: "You got off easy this time @Cristiano."
The Americans are confident their defensive depth can stop the two-time World Player of the Year when they play Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on Sunday in the Amazon rainforest capital of Manaus.
"He's a complete player," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "When you look at the game today, there's such a premium on the physical aspect of the game – speed, strength, endurance – and he is a guy who checks all those boxes. Then, when you talk about his technical ability – the way he shoots with his right foot, his left foot, how good in the air he is – he's somebody who can make the difference at any moment."
For more World Cup stories, visit our dedicated microsite – thenational.ae/worldcup.
After a 2-1 opening win over Ghana, the US could clinch advancement with a win or put themselves in good position with a draw.
Right-back Fabian Johnson, left-back DaMarcus Beasley and central defenders Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler figure to fixate on Ronaldo. Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones will assist in marking him from the midfield.
Ronaldo, 29, has scored 50 goals in four straight seasons with Real Madrid. He was World Player of the Year in 2008, then in January he ended Lionel Messi’s streak of four consecutive awards.
For six months, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been talking about how his first priority was the opener against Ghana and his second was to "go to beautiful Manaus and expect Mr Ronaldo".
Klinsmann, by the way, did not even have Ronaldo on his player of the year ballot; he voted Franck Ribery first, followed by Gareth Bale and Radamel Falcao.
Ronaldo has been bothered by tendinitis in his left knee for more than two months, and he wore a brace on Friday during Portugal's training session in Campinas.
“At the moment we certainly expect that he is going to play,” Bradley said. “A game of this magnitude, of this importance for both teams, you’d always expect that the best players are going to find any way to be on the field.”
The US have experience going up against top players, keeping Argentina’s Messi scoreless at the 2007 Copa America and during friendlies in 2008 and 2011. England’s Wayne Rooney was held without a goal in the Americans’ 2010 World Cup opener.
“We have a lot of respect for Cristiano. He’s a great player. But I think you have to have respect for the whole team of Portugal,” Jones said. “When we stick together like a team and fight like we did against Ghana, then I think we have chances to win this game.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard said it has to be a group effort.
“Body language. Communication,” he said, “and just being able to be in the right spots.”
Portugal are coming off a 4-0 loss to Germany.
“There’s two ways to look at it,” Bradley said. “One is that they lost 4-0, played 60 minutes down a guy [after Pepe was sent off], a few injuries. And it would be easy to look and say this is a good time to play them. But the other side says that it is in some ways a desperate team that is playing for their lives.”
Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE