Visitors to the nearby Amazon rainforest and indigenous villages are warned of alligators, piranhas, mosquitos, malaria and yellow fever. But the U.S. World Cup team will not be staying in a jungle lodge or riding any river boats during its stay in this city, which sits on the banks of the Rio Negro, just upstream from its confluence with the Amazon.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players are not here as tourists. They are on a very serious business trip, and although some players did take vaccinations and malaria pills, the only danger in their eyes is Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (even with a bum knee) and his talented team, which is desperate for a win after a deflating 4-0 loss to Germany in its Group G opener.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento said it quite simply: “Either we win, or we pack our suitcase.”
The Americans, coming off a thrilling 2-1 win over Ghana, are equally hungry. The 2-2 tie between Germany and Ghana on Saturday means the U.S. team could clinch a spot in the Round of 16 with a win against Portugal.
“We’re full of energy, very impatient, can’t wait to get this whole thing started,” Klinsmann said. “It was huge for us to start this tournament with three points against a very strong Ghana team, which proved it against Germany. Sunday could be a huge step for us.
“We have a lot of admiration for Cristiano and his team, but this is the moment when you can prove yourself, step up and play those guys and put them in place. We want to put Cristiano and his team in place. … We believe we have the quality to beat Portugal.”
Game conditions are expected to be harsher than in other cities because Arena de Amazonas is the World Cup venue with the steamiest, most oppressive climate. The temperature at kickoff Sunday is expected to be in the high 80s, with humidity that could make it feel more like 100 degrees.
Klinsmann shrugged off the weather.
“We are very well prepared for this climate,” he said. “We have similar climates in CONCACAF in Central America, even if you go through Miami, it’s very similar to what we’re going to experience here.”
A tie would still keep the U.S. team in contention, but players would rather wrap it up with a victory.
“Based on past World Cups, sometimes four points isn’t enough,” said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, a Weston native whose entire family and youth soccer coach are with him in Brazil this week. “I think we are trying to go out against Portugal and win that game, and then we don’t have to think about anything.”
A big key will be whether the United States can contain Ronaldo, who has been battling tendinitis in his left knee but is expected to play.
“Cristiano played in the last game, trained with us every day, and is fit to play,” midfielder Raul Meireles said.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard knows more than most just how good Ronaldo is. They were teammates at Manchester United for three years. Asked Saturday if he knew from the start how good the Portuguese player would be, he said: “We always knew he was special from the moment he stepped in the door.
“He had skills I had never seen before. Did I imagine he’d be World Player of the Year at that time? No. But he certainly had the tools,” Howard said. “He is the single hardest working player I’ve ever been around, on and off the field. His work ethic is incredible. But if we pay too much attention to Ronaldo, someone else will beat us.”
Portugal is expected to be missing four players, and maybe five. Defender Pepe was suspended with a red card in the Germany match. Defender Fabio Coentrao is injured, as is forward Hugo Almeida and goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Defender Bruno Alves is questionable.
The U.S. team will be without starting forward Jozy Altidore of Boca Raton, who strained his left hamstring early in the Ghana game.
Klinsmann has not said who will replace Altidore in the lineup. He could go with 23-year-old Aron “Ice Man” Johannsson, who filled in for Altidore on Monday night. Another option is Chris “Wondo” Wondolowski, known for his nose for the goal. Klinsmann also could decide to play five midfielders with Clint Dempsey as the lone forward.
The U.S. players are not buying into the suggestion that Portugal is vulnerable because of its injuries.
“There’s two ways to look at it: one is that they lost 4-0, they played 60 minutes down a guy, a few injuries, it would be easy to look and say this is a good time to play,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “But the other side says that it is, in some ways, a desperate team that is playing for their lives because they need a result. We have to respect that.”