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U.S. mission against Portugal: Just win, baby

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MANAUS, Brazil – Ever excitable to begin with, Jurgen Klinsmann had an extra skip in his step. The U.S. coach had just made the unusual, if understandable, decision to walk out of his news conference for about 10 minutes Saturday afternoon here so he could watch the end of the Ghana-Germany game on television.

Once that ended in a 2-2 tie, he returned, beaming over the American's golden opportunity against Portugal at 6 p.m. ET Sunday. The U.S. can seize, in the shortest of the orders, control of the so-called "Group of Death" and clinch advancement to the knockout round.

The "reason they call it the 'Group of Death,' " Klinsmann said, "[is] because we're in it, too."

Oh, Klinsmann was having himself a good afternoon here. The start to this World Cup has been the stuff of Jurgen's dreams and it kept getting better Saturday – Portugal announcing depth-depleting injuries one minute, Germany stumbling into a tie the next.

Everything was laying out in front of him, allowing a confident coach to make bold statements in front of the international soccer community, while eyeing the chance to make them all look up and wonder just how he got this U.S. team so far, so fast.

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Jurgen Klinsmann is excited about his team's opportunity in Manaus. (AP)

Jurgen Klinsmann is excited about his team's opportunity in Manaus. (AP)

And he gets to attempt it by challenging his guys to go beyond whatever preconceived notions there were of them and focus on the most basic of American philosophies:

Just win, baby.

"If we take care of business," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "The rest is history."

A victory over Portugal would give the U.S. six points and put them through to the elimination stage even with a game against Germany to play. Even better, they could win the group outright with just a tie against the Germans, gaining a more favorable draw in the round of 16. Even a draw against Portugal would also leave the Americans in terrific shape to advance, tied with Germany with four points, with Portugal and Ghana each back with just one.

There was little talk of a tie, though. This is about going for the throat, taking what's available without hesitation. That is all you can ask for even though the fortune-kissed Americans keep getting more.

Portugal will be down either four or five players because of injury or suspension for Sunday's game, their coach announced Saturday. Throw in the fact that star Cristiano Ronaldo is still likely less than 100 percent with his balky left knee and the U.S. gains a world-class opponent just trying to hold it together.

Depth could be everything here along the Amazon River. It's hot and humid with heavy air. Manaus sits in the middle of it all, a couple hundred miles south of the equator, surrounded by rainforest so thick the Brazilian government believes there are tribes in it that still haven't been touched by the outside world.

In reality, it isn't that bad. It kind of looks and feels like a bigger Tallahassee.

Still, while the Florida panhandle is certainly playable for soccer, it's not normally preferable this time of year … unless you have a near-full roster (missing just Jozy Altidore) and the other side doesn't.

The American's don't fear the heat anyway. Most grew up through steamy summers back home. Plenty still play in Major League Soccer – Houston and Kansas City aren't a picnic this time of year either. Besides, Klinsmann has been focused for months with this day in mind, factoring it into everything from training tactics, to practice locations, to roster selections.

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The United States can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a victory over Portugal. (Getty Images)

The United States can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a victory over Portugal. (Getty Images)

"We're fit," Howard said. "As long as we stay hydrated, we'll be fine."

Portugal likely can't say the same. If anything, the U.S. should want it as brutal as possible Sunday evening, where the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the low 80s, humidity in the high 80s and an environment that's best described as cotton candy soup featuring intermittent downpours. In other words: life in the Amazon.

Whatever. The Americans will take it.

And they'd be wise to seize it because the good fortune brings with it high stakes.

A loss to Portugal would throw the entire path in front of them into chaos, leaving them potentially needing a victory over a high-class German team.

If anything, playing in Manaus might be a bigger problem next Thursday, when the U.S. isn't here, than Sunday.

With a superior bench, the Americans hold an advantage against Portugal. The recovery process for what should be a draining game, however, could be steep. And the turnaround is quick.

[Video: USA vs. Portugal keys and predictions ]

The U.S. will fly all the way back to Sao Paulo late Sunday night – a nearly five-hour trip – for a little more than a day before another long journey to play Germany in the northern beach town of Recife.

The Germans, meanwhile, never came out here in the jungle, played in comfortable conditions against Ghana on Saturday and now enjoy an extra day of rest.

The two teams – Italy and England – who have so far come to Manaus have played a second World Cup game. They both lost. It's a small sample size but perhaps the start of a trend. Coaches, athletes, trainers and the international player's union have all complained about the toll this venue demands.

All of that just ramps up the pressure. All factors are breaking in the Americans' direction. But kick that opportunity away, and the tide turns in a hurry.

Klinsmann seemed to love it all. The good, the bad … mostly, the precious present at hand. This is what he wants: his team set up on a big stage, looking to exceed expectations by clearing challenges once seemed impossible.

Group of Death, he scoffed?

"For us, the only thing that really matters is to be spot on," he said. "We believe we can beat them. We believe with all preparation and the players we have, we have the quality to beat Portugal here in Manaus."

There was no hiding his smile.

"Special moment," Klinsmann said. "Recognize the special moment."

Or regret it, big time.

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