Crunch time for Portugal, Ronaldo

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iol spt june22 Portugal-training AP Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal will be fighting for their World Cup lives when they face the United States in the key match of the tournament. Photo by: Paulo Duarte/AP

Rio De Janeiro – Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal will be fighting for their World Cup lives when they face the United States in the key match of the tournament on Sunday.

A disastrous 4-0 thrashing by Germany in their opening Group G match has plunged Portugal into crisis as they prepare to face the Americans, surprise 2-1 winners over Ghana in their first game.

Portugal's preparations for a match they cannot afford to lose have been disrupted by a suspension to defender Pepe and a tournament-ending injury to Real Madrid's Fabio Coentrao.

With forward Hugo Almeida and goalkeeper Rui Patricio also missing, and Ronaldo looking short of full fitness, Portugal risk joining England, Spain and Bosnia on the European scrap heap.

“The situation is very simple: either we win or we start to pack our bags,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said.

“It is not a scenario that the Portuguese are used to,” he added.

US coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be without striker Jozy Altidore, who has a hamstring injury. Clint Dempsey, who scored the first goal against Ghana, is likely to wear a protective face mask after breaking his nose in the first game.

Belgium play Russia at the Maracana stadium in the decisive Group H encounter. Belgium, who beat Algeria 2-1 on Tuesday, can reach the second round with a game to spare if they win.

Russia's coach Fabio Capello insisted he would stick with goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev for the game despite his costly blunder against South Korea.

Akinfeev fumbled a shot by South Korea's Lee Keun-Ho into his own goal on Tuesday. Russia had to fight back to scrape a draw and Capello now faces mounting criticism for the performance.

“I had decided after the mistake that Akinfeev would stay because he's a great goalkeeper,” the Italian coach said. “I never thought about changing him. He's one of the best in the world.”

Capello said he expected a lot of pressure on Akinfeev from Belgium in Sunday's game. Belgium have “surprised all of Europe,” he added.

Belgium's captain Vincent Kompany shook off a groin strain to play. Coach Marc Wilmots had said he expected Russia to press for goals.

“The advantage for us is that we don't need to take the match in hand. It's up to Russia to do it,” said Wilmots.

Algeria go into their Porto Alegre match with South Korea still desperate to end a run of seven games at three World Cup finals without a win. Another defeat will spell the end of this adventure for the Desert Foxes.

Refereeing controversies continued to rumble following Saturday's games, which saw Iran furious after their late defeat to Argentina.

Bosnia meanwhile were also critical of the officiating in the 1-0 loss to Nigeria which ended their tournament.

New Zealand referee Peter O'Leary was slammed by Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko after wrongly disallowing a Bosnian goal for offside.

“We are going home, we are sad because of that but the referee should go home too, because he changed the result, he changed the game, and that's why we lost,” said Dzeko. – Sapa-AFP

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