U.S. Men: We Can Stop Ronaldo

SAO PAULO – Just after he was cut from the U.S. roster last month, right back Brad Evans posted this snarky tweet: “You got off easy this time @Cristiano.”

The Americans are confident their defensive depth can stop the two-time world player of the year when they play Portugal on Sunday night in a World Cup match in the Amazon rain forest capital of Manaus.

“He’s a complete player,” midfielder Michael Bradley said Friday. “When you look at the game today, there’s such a premium on the physical aspect of the game – speed, strength, endurance – and he is a guy who checks all those boxes. And then when you talk about his technical ability – the way he shoots with his right foot, his left foot, how good in the air he is – he’s somebody who can make the difference at any moment.”

Coming off a 2-1 opening victory against Ghana, the U.S. could possibly clinch advancement with a win and would put itself in excellent position with a tie.

Right back Fabian Johnson, left back DaMarcus Beasley and central defenders Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler figure to fixate on Ronaldo. Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones will assist in marking him from the midfield.

The 29-year-old forward with the perpetually gelled hair has topped 50 goals in four straight seasons with Real Madrid. He was voted FIFA player of the year in 2008, then in January ended Lionel Messi’s streak of four consecutive awards.

For six months, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been talking about how his first priority was the U.S. opener against Ghana and his second was to “go to beautiful Manaus and expect Mr. Ronaldo.” Klinsmann, by the way, didn’t even have Ronaldo on his player of the year ballot; he voted Franck Ribery first, followed by Gareth Bale and Radamel Falcao.

Ronaldo has been bothered by tendinitis in his left knee for more than two months, and he wore a brace Friday during Portugal’s training session in Campinas.

“At the moment we certainly expect that he is going to play,” Bradley said. “A game of this magnitude, of this importance for both teams, you’d always expect that the best players are going to find any way to be on the field.”

The U.S. has experience going up against top players, keeping Argentina’s Messi scoreless at the 2007 Copa America and during exhibitions in 2008 and 2011. England’s Wayne Rooney was held without a goal in the Americans’ 2010 World Cup opener.

“We have a lot of respect for Cristiano. He’s a great player. But I think you have to respect for the whole team of Portugal,” Jones said. “When we stick together like a team and fight like we did it against Ghana, then I think we have chances to win this game.”

Goalkeeper Tim Howard says it has to be a group effort.

“Body language. Communication,” he said, “and just being able to be in the right spots.”

The U.S. says Besler’s sore right hamstring, which forced him from the opener at halftime, is fine and he will be able to play Sunday. He did early work on the field Friday before the others.

Nestor Pitana of Argentina was selected Friday by FIFA as the referee. He worked Russia’s 1-1 tie against South Korea.

Portugal is coming of a 4-0 loss to Germany that cost it three starters: right back Fabio Coentrao and forward Hugo Almeida got hurt, and central defender Pepe was ejected.

“There’s two ways to look at it,” Bradley said. “One is that they lost 4-0, played 60 minutes down a guy, a few injuries. And it would be easy to look and say this is a good time to play them. But the other side says that it is … in some ways a desperate team that is playing for their lives.”

Court orders FIFA to

implement water breaks

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) – A Brazilian court on Friday ordered FIFA to introduce mandatory water breaks in World Cup matches when temperatures reach 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit).

A labor court in the capital of Brasilia issued a temporary injunction saying the breaks are required near the 30th minute of each half so players can get hydrated. FIFA had said it would only implement the breaks when its medical staff considered them necessary.

The court said in a statement that the ruling was made after nearly two hours of failed negotiations involving FIFA and local prosecutors in an audience on Friday.

Brazil’s players’ union recently took legal action against FIFA to try to change the start times of more than a third of World Cup matches because of heat and humidity.

Prosecutors wanted the breaks to be implemented when the temperature reached 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), but the judge said that he would accept FIFA’s limit of 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit) because it wasn’t evident that the small difference would “endanger the players’ health.”

The judge said the injunction was needed because there was nothing assuring that FIFA would enforce its own guidelines.

“I think that obliging FIFA to enforce its own norm is not a measure that jeopardizes the competition,” judge Rogerio Neiva Pinheiro said in his ruling.

FIFA said it would “fully respect” the court decision.

“The labor court in Brasilia fully confirmed FIFA’s own set of pre-established guidelines for the implementation of cooling breaks during the FIFA World Cup which had already been applied consistently since the opening match,” FIFA said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “FIFA will continuously apply its related guidelines throughout” the tournament.

The judge said FIFA must pay 200,000 reals (about $90,000) for each match in which the ruling isn’t enforced.

It also said the governing body is responsible for registering the temperature during matches by using certified equipment.

Brazil’s players’ union had demanded FIFA changed kickoff times of all 24 matches that were scheduled for 1 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), saying it wanted to avoid subjecting athletes to the “risks” of playing in “intense heat.”

FIFA had said at the time that it would not change the start times, or make the cooling breaks mandatory, because it spent nearly two years analyzing the tournament’s schedule and always took into consideration the players’ health.

FIFA last year altered the starting times of seven World Cup matches in the most hot and humid host cities.

Winter is starting in Brazil, but it remains hot and humid in many of the 12 host cities, especially in the northeastern and northern regions.

There was special concern with the jungle city of Manaus, where humidity is expected to significantly affect players’ performances. It happened in the England vs. Italy match last week, when players and fans complained of the conditions.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.