Sport | Portugal Muller-ed by Germany as Pepe sees red

They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but in the USA’s case it was served up in the blazing 30° heat of Natal last night. After defeats to Ghana in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups the American’s finally got one over their old foe with a 2-1 victory.

Clint Dempsey got the USA off to the best possible start with a goal within 32 seconds; making him the fifth fastest World Cup goal scorer of all time. Dempsey’s creativity turned what looked to be an innocuous throw into his side’s opening goal, showing the World an example of the class he oozed whilst in the Premier League with Fulham and Spurs. Jozy Altidore had a guilt edge chance from 8 yards to double the advantage but Ghanaian bodies flew in from all directions to block. Altidore’s game, and probably his tournament, was cut short soon after with a suspected torn hamstring; the frontman’s hold up play was sorely missed from then on. Ghana soon took advantage and had much of the possession, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s men were resolute, and for 80 minutes put in a defensive performance that Jose Mourinho would be proud of, the ultimate smash and grab looked to have come off. The African side were strong and physical, but their opponents were more than a match in the centre of the field, with Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman proving their worth, everywhere you looked the unmistakable dreadlocks of Beckerman seemed to be around the ball. The red, white and blue wall was eventually broken when Sunderland old boy Asamoah Gyan eventually broke open the USA defence with a sublime back heel that paved the way for Andre Ayew to slam home. With only eight minutes to go the atmosphere within Estadio das Dunas changed dramatically, gone were the chants of ‘U-S-A’ and instead the rhythmic dancing and singing of the Ghanaians, they smelt blood. Both teams were throwing caution to the wind towards the end as they both hunted the victory; two very proud countries wanting to please their very proud fans. It was the hundreds of Americans in attendance that were to be standing tallest at the end of this one as German born John Brooks rose highest to nod home from a corner with four minutes remaining. It was a case of third time lucky for the USA; it was clear what the victory meant to the team as the gladiators that had defended so well celebrated victory. Football in America seems to be taking great strides forward and Jurgen Klinsmann has moulded the national side into a well-oiled machine which will be hard to beat.

Klinsmann was not the only German to be celebrating yesterday, after Thomas Muller almost single-handedly dismantled a poor Portugal side. Portugal never really got going and the writing was on the wall as soon as Joao Pereira brought down Mario Gotze for a twelfth minute penalty which Muller converted. It is clear to see why everyone is jumping on the German bandwagon these days; Portugal are no pushovers but Germany made light work of them, with six Bayern Munich players making up the core of the team their players have an understanding that many national teams seem to lack. Another powerhouse of the Bundesliga is Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels, he and Per Mertesacker make a strong partnership at the back, and it was Hummels who added to the lead when he thumped home a header just after the half hour mark. If the job wasn’t hard enough for Portugal with eleven men it was nigh on impossible once the hot-headed Pepe received his marching orders for an altercation with Thomas Muller. The German may well be one of the deadliest strikers about but he did his reputation no favours when clutching his face after an apparent elbow from the Portuguese defender. It was Pepe’s reaction to such tomfoolery that gave the referee no choice but to give him the red card; making head to head contact is never acceptable on the football field (unless you’re names Neymar then you might be able to get away with it) so Pepe had to go. From then on it was one way traffic, with Muller rubbing salt into the wounds by adding another close to half time and a final scrappy effort to seal his hat trick. In what many are calling the group of death Portugal will need to dig deep to reach the round of 16, and that means more than just hanging back and waiting for Cristiano Ronaldo to do his thing, the team need to show some heart to succeed.

Only the most die-hard of World Cup fans tune into matches such as Iran vs Nigeria, and even fewer tune in expecting a goal fest. In many ways, this lived up to expectations as both teams couldn’t find a way to goal in this dull affair. Carlos Queiroz takes great pride in making Iran such a difficult team to beat, and they proved that way with Nigeria restricted to long shots as they crammed the middle of the pitch. As time ran out it seemed Iran were keen to take the draw, and with it the first (goalless) draw of the tournament. This one won’t last too long in the memory bank, and from this performance it looks as if Argentina and Bosnia &Herzegovina have little to worry about in Group F.

Adam LeRoux

Picture: Belfast Telegraph

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