He is considered by many to be the best soccer player on the planet. And he just might be the first one to tell you that, his ego is so enormous.
He can score goals in bunches and turn a match on its head if you give him some space.
Yet, the United States players aren’t intimidated by Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo as they try to make some World Cup history in the heat and humidity Sunday at Arena da Amazonia.
After Ghana’s surprising 2-2 draw with Group G favorite Germany Saturday, the Americans can book a spot in the Round of 16 with a win over Portugal.
“Just another motivating factor,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “(A win) gets us through the group. That gives us everything. We’re going to go into the game to fight tooth and nail. That’s a good result. We can win and take care of business, and the rest is history.”
If the Americans prevail, they would register two group-stage wins in the same World Cup for the second time after they accomplished the feat in the 1930 Cup.
Portugal has its back against the wall and faces a must-win situation.
“Either we win or we start making our suitcase,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “If we draw, we practically pack our suitcase.”
While stopping Ronaldo — the reigning FIFA world player of the year — seems to be an imposing task, the U.S. players were not fazed at all.
“How do you stop him? You steal the ball from him,” said Sporting Kansas City and USA center back Matt Besler, who has been given the go-ahead to play after leaving the 2-1 win over Ghana at halftime because of tightness in his right hamstring.
“He’s human. He’s not a super hero. At the end of the day, we’re all soccer players. He’s the best soccer player in the world, so it’s going to be difficult. But there’s nothing that he does that is just so overwhelming that you can’t stop.”
Ronaldo has been troubled by a lingering knee injury, but you usually can see Ronaldo streaking down the left side of the field, finding ways to make life miserable for opponents, combining his speed, strength and skills to get free to fire off one of his lethal shots. He also happens to be quite dangerous on free kicks as he is given the time to figure out whether he will drill his spot kick past the goalkeeper or curve it around the defensive wall and into the net.
“We’d like to avoid the one-on-one situations,” Besler said. “... Maybe it’s two guys, maybe it’s three guys at times just containing him and always knowing where he’s at it.”
Besler also noted that Portugal was far from a one-man show.
“It’s not going to be a situation where 100 percent of our focus is going to be on Cristiano because he’s one player,” he said. “It’s the team that wins.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former World Cup winner who directed Germany to a third-place finish in 2006, understood what was at stake.
“This is now the moment where you can prove yourself,” he said. “This is the moment where you can step up and play those guys and put them in place. We want to put Cristiano and his team in place. ... We want to make it our game. We’re not worried about any of the other players at all.”
Lost in the spotlight on Ronaldo is that Portugal could miss as many as five players. Two key defenders — Pepe (red-card suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (thigh injury) — are definitely sidelined, and goalkeeper Rui Patricio is also hurt and might not play.
Clint Dempsey, who suffered a broken nose against Ghana, was replaced at Saturday’s news conference by midfielder Jermaine Jones. Dempsey’s absence raised eyebrows about his health.
“No, no Clint is all good, good to go,” Klinsmann said. “We’re just trying to rotate the players for you guys.”