USA midfielder Jermaine Jones believes his side’s team-first attitude is what will see them victorious when they face Portugal in their second World Cup group game on Sunday.
After substitute John Brooks’ late header gave them a 2-1 win over Ghana in their opener, the US are riding a wave of newfound optimism into the match in Manaus, with the lingering tension surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial squad selection last month now a thing of the past.
Portugal meanwhile are looking to bounce back from their 4-0 humbling at the hands of Germany, in which the side lost starters, Fabio Coentrao, Hugo Almeida and Pepe to tournament-ending injuries and a red card-induced suspension, respectively.
Ever-reliant on their superstar skipper, Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness continues to be the major talking point in camp, having been suffering with a knee injury since the end of the domestic season, and Jones has compared the imminent matchup to the recent NBA finals, where the LeBron James-led Miami Heat were downed by a balanced San Antonio Spurs team.
‘We’ll try everything to win this game. If they lose, we can say they’re out of the tournament, so I’m 100% sure they’ll do everything to win it,’ Jones said. ‘They’ll want to show the world they’re a good team with special players. We have a lot of respect for all of them.
‘If we win we’re already through to the next round so we’re 100% concentrating on that game. We’ll try to play the game that we played on Monday night,’ he added. ‘We know that Cristiano Ronaldo is a special player and how important he is to their team, but it’s like in the NBA finals with the Spurs against Miami; the better team wins. They can have maybe one or two special players, but if you play like a [collective] team you’ll be stronger.’
Having won three friendly caps for Germany previously, Jones switched allegiances to the US, the country of his father’s birth, in late-2009, missing the South Africa World Cup due to injury, before gradually becoming a core part of Klinsmann’s qualifying squad over the following years.
A tenacious, all-out competitor on the pitch, the 32-year-old’s performances had come in for criticism from sections of fans in the run-up to Brazil, but a standout display on the left-hand side of the diamond midfield in the Ghana win seemed to win over the Besiktas veteran’s doubters.
Pitted in the tournament’s supposed “Group of Death”, few gave the US much chance of success in Brazil at the time of the draw but the feel-goof attitude in the squad, combined with the current state of Portugal, leaves many to wonder whether they could spring a surprise on the weekend.
While that’s certainly a far cry from assessments a few weeks earlier, the absence of Jozy Altidore’s physical presence up top will nevertheless be a big loss to the lineup and the likes of Jones and the rest of the side will be set for a tough contest, whether their opponents are with or without Ronaldo.
If the ex-Blackburn loanee and his teammates play with the kind of conviction they showed against the African outfit, however, then they have every chance of causing an upset over their Group G rivals.