A peculiarity of these last four days at the
Take Team USA. For all of the attention it will pay to Germany, which is blocking the Americans' view of the knockout portion, Portugal versus Ghana cannot be ignored.
The outcome of that match would be deemed irrelevant to the Americans if they win or tie, but a defeat would crack open the door for the victor of the other contest to climb out of Group G. Though the U.S. holds a tie-breaker edge on both -- by a little over Ghana, a lot over Portugal -- some fringe factors, such as a lopsided game with the winner accumulating multiple goals, could create a worst-case scenario for the Americans.
The Ghanaian players had been griping about unpaid bonus supposedly due them. Rumbles about a boycott of the match so concerned federation officials that, according to Ghanaian media, a plane carrying the equivalent of a few million dollars was dispatched to Brazil to make good on the IOUs. (Why cash? The team supposedly mistrusted a promise of electronic transfers.)
The payments did not solve all problems in the Ghana camp. Two of their experienced hands, midfielders Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, have been expelled. Muntari, who would not have suited up Thursday because of yellow card accumulation, allegedly attacked a team official. Boateng yelled at coach James Kwesi Appiah during practice and refused to apologize, according to reports.
Portugal, meanwhile, is a fragile, injury-dogged team that knows it requires an explosion of goals to catch the U.S. (or Germany). Should the game unfold discouragingly for the Portuguese, it is conceivable their intensity would slack off and the Ghanaians could produce a glut of goals to benefit them in a tie-breaker.
The next U.S. opponent, if there is one, will evolve out of the later Group H games. Belgium, which would accept a tie against South Korea to remain in front of the foursome, is expected to withhold two players who earned yellows and not expose them to suspension with another card.