Portugal suffered a shock collapse to Germany in the opening match of Group G play Monday. The Germans hammered Portugal 4-0, amounting to its worst ever World Cup defeat. Heavy, multiple goal defeats like the one suffered by Portugal are dispiriting enough.
But not only did Portugal lose big, it also had a man sent off as Real Madrid defender, Pepe, was shown straight red for a first half head-butt on Germany’s Thomas Muller.
As a result of the red card, the defender will now be banned from the next match. This means that when Portugal faces the United States on Sunday, it will be without one of its key defenders.
To make matters worse for Portugal, midfielder Fabio Coentrao, another key member of its starting lineup, was carted off on a stretcher in tears in the second half. Earlier in the game, Portugal striker Hugo Almeida also limped off the pitch with an injury.
So just what does this result mean for the U.S., which kicks off its World Cup play later Monday against the other team in Group G, Ghana?
From a U.S. point of view, things couldn’t have gone much better.
Germany has long been among the favorites to win this summer’s World Cup. With a well-balanced squad that bristles with talent up and down the pitch, coach Jogi Loew’s German team is all but assured to make it to the next round.
Led by current World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal had been regarded as most likely to follow Germany into the Round of 16. But the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner was largely a peripheral figure in Monday’s match. Germany’s Jerome Boateng played at full back and was tasked with marking the Real Madrid forward. He did a better than respectable job and Ronaldo’s contribution was largely limited to taking free kicks and waving his arms at the referee when decisions didn’t go Portugal’s way.
Ronaldo being dispirited, along with Coentrao’s injury and Pepe’s suspension amounts to a virtual hat trick of misfortune for Portugal. It heads into the next game against the U.S. looking like a depleted force.
The U.S. has undoubtedly been dealt one of its toughest ever World Cup draws. And beating Germany would amount to one of the greatest World Cup upsets in recent history. But after Monday, it’s possible to plot a course where by the time the U.S. faces the Germans on June 26, it won't be imperative.
If the U.S. can win against Ghana, it could finish the first round of Group Stage play sitting second in Group G. Even a draw would put the U.S. in a relatively strong position.
A win against Ghana, and a win or draw against Portugal on Sunday would be enough to all but guarantee the U.S. passage to the round of 16. And even a draw against Ghana no longer looks like the mortal blow to the U.S. chances it once did.
Even in the worse possible scenario, if the U.S. lost Monday, it still seems entirely plausible to come back and win against Portugal. And Ghana, for all its quality, will likely lose to Germany. Were that to happen, the U.S. could go into its final match against a German side that will likely already have qualified, needing only a draw to progress to the next round.
Make no mistake; Group G is still very much the Group of Death. But Monday’s result for Germany against Portugal has perhaps offered the U.S. a glint of life.