The day that the World Cup truly “begins” for most of the United States finally arrived. It began with what was billed as a mammoth tie between Portugal and Germany to see whether Ronaldo could match what fabricated nemesis Messi had accomplished in the day before or if Germany would accept the role as a “favorite.” Then Nigeria and Iran attempted to prove that their match deserved as much build-up as the other Monday fixtures, but we all would not be moved until the USA took the pitch against Ghana. Would Germany grind through? Would Nigeria notch a win? And would American answer everyone’s questions?
Germany vs Portugal
After becoming completely perturbed with Portugal’s continued billing as a “one-man-team,” it came time for Ronaldo and Portugal to prove themselves against one of the whispered early favorites for the Cup. In the first moments of the game, we saw that it would be guarded build-up with slashing attacks from Germany and a blistering counter-attack from Portugal. However, right after passing the ten minute mark, Gotze was taken down in the box (somewhat softly) and Germany was awarded a penalty that Muller would efficiently dispatch. Chances would arise for both teams (most often coming from mistakes from the opposing squad), but Germany would double their lead from a towering header in the 32nd minute. While an early injury to Hugo Almeida and the two goals felt like everything was working against Portugal, it was a moment of madness that would truly send Portugal spiraling toward defeat (and possible ruin).
Pepe, long known for his insane flashes of anger, took offense at Muller attempting to make the most of a light arm across the face. With a slight nudge of his head on the seated German attacker, Pepe made sure that he would be awarded a large portion of the game’s headlines as he was given a straight red card. Portugal would never truly threaten Neuer (outside of a possible penalty claim and late/late/late Ronaldo free-kick) as the team started to look completely unhappy to be sharing the pitch with each other. Nani showed why he has been enjoying more and more of the bench at Old Trafford the past two seasons and even Ronaldo looked a fair bit off his best. As if the score was not bad enough as Muller added a second in first-half stoppage time and a fourth in the 78th minute, Coentrao had to be carted off the field in the second half. Germany firmly cemented their position as a favorite and Portugal are left needing to make big strides in their next match if they hope to avoid a swift return back to Europe. An absolutely enthralling match…
Iran vs Nigeria
While every game has dictated (at least) two paragraphs in order to truly describe most of the action (some of the games really deserved full posts of their own), the Iran/Nigeria game will only be remembered for how amazingly disjointed the entire affair was and for being the first draw of Brazil 2014. Attacks merely seemed to appear instead of having any type of build-up and there was certainly not any player that seemed to take this game as their opportunity to arrive on the biggest stage. It was inevitable for us to experience an eventual draw, but 0-0 is the only descriptor that you need for this game. While most of this tournament is more than worthy to be watched/rewatched on your DVR, this game was not up to those standards. Sorry to any fans of these two teams, but it was uninspiring and was not a proper build-up to USA/Ghana.
Ghana vs United States
No game has received the build-up in this tournament (not even the opening match) that this particular game got hit with. Then, within the first minute, Clint Dempsey broke Twitter and sent the United States into an absolute frenzy with a classy left-footed finish. As Ghana attempted to offer a response and even the score, a truly terrible scene occurred for USMNT fans as Jozy Altidore had to be carted off with a hamstring injury. A huge loss that only increased the volume of the “Landon Donovan” talk, and one that will be intriguing to watch how it effects the rest of the tournament. Ghana would continue to press, and after Clint Dempsey had a Ghanian shin rearrange his nose, Ghana certainly looked the more likely to score and take advantage of some poor play from Beasley. The USMNT would scrape through to halftime winning 1-0…with plenty of scares and a long half of play ahead.
The second half would see another early sub needed (this time in defense) as John Brooks would come on for Besler (more leg issues), somehow making this match even more intriguing. Ghana would continue to look more dominant, but seemed to start settling for more and more shots from distance. The USMNT just could not find any working outlet and were hemmed into their own half, a scary situation which only served to create massive amounts of drama. Both teams had used all three subs by the 76th minute, and yet Ghana kept on coming. Then, finally, Ghana broke U.S. hearts in the 83rd minute after fantastic build-up and passing move from Ghana…sad to admit, but it had certainly been coming from the Black Stars. And then, out of nowhere, John Brooks gave his debut the absolute best moment that he could have hoped for…a possible game-winning goal for the U.S. in the 87th minute. A beautiful Zusi cross was turned in by the youngster and Brooks was as overcome with emotion as the entire USMNT fan-base was. Could the U.S. team hold out for the last few minutes? After the audible moan from the crowd after seeing the five minutes of added time, it gave birth to cheers of joy as the U.S. team snagged three full points. An amazing match that was purely encapsulated by a goal celebration by Brooks, as he showed all the emotion involved with this U.S. team…breathtaking…
Germany marched through their first step to a long tournament, Iran and Nigeria will be more than happy to snag a point, and the United States proved that, despite not having the best players in the world, their tenacity cannot be doubted. For Portugal, the team will have to stop the bleeding against the U.S. in order to avoid a very early exit. For Ghana, the witch doctors will need to put in some serious overtime if they hope to survive the group. A fantastic day of football, ending with a collective sigh of relief from any fan of the USMNT. I-Love-Football.