When I got to Brazil nearly two weeks ago I wasn't optimistic about the U.S. team's World Cup chances. The U.S. was in the toughest group in the deepest tournament field in history, it faced long flights to distant -- and unforgiving -- cities and it had struggled in its warm-up games against weak opponents.
But I've changed my mind. Now I see a way out of group play for the U.S.
The Americans need at least four points -- a win and draw -- in group-play games with Ghana, Portugal and Germany to advance to the second round.
The conventional thinking was a win in the opener against Ghana and a tie with Portugal would be enough to get the Americans through, even with the all-but-certain loss to Germany. That plan unfolds today at 3 p.m. PDT when Juergen Klinsmann coaches his first World Cup game against Ghana in this northeastern seafront city. Over the past several days Natal has been battered by brutal rains that produced mudslides but the skies above are cloudy and dry this morning.
But even a draw against the Africans, who have eliminated the U.S. from the last two World Cups, wouldn't be a disaster because I think Klinsmann's team will beat Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.
Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year, hasn't been training because of tendonitis in his left knee. And the game with the U.S. will be played in the heat and humidity of the Amazon. When England and Italy played in Manaus last week you could see the players wilt in the second half. Ronaldo's fade could start a lot earlier. And without a dangerous Ronaldo, Portugal is vulnerable.
Of course all this thinking be proved wrong in a few hours when the games start. Few of the other journalists traveling with me think it's right now.