World Cup: It’s U.S. 2, Portugal 1 in second half

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MANAUS, Brazil — Second half strikes by U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones and striker Clint Dempsey gave the United States a 2-1 second half lead in a key Group G World Cup match at Manaus, Brazil.

The goals made up for an early U.S. miscue that allowed Portugal to take a 1-0 lead when Nani scored after a U.S clearance attempt went awry.

U.S. defender Geoff Cameron tried to knock away a cross but the ball went to a wide-open Nani, who waited for U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard to go down, then slammed home a shot from 6 yards.

The second half was played at a more measure pace than the first half with the U.S. trying to strike counterattacks up its right flank. It created several chances but the Portugal defense and goalkeeper Beto kept the U.S off the board until Jones’ goal.

Just before halftime, Nani had a rocket parried off the right post by Howard, who saved a rebound effort from Eder while reaching back over his head to knock away the shot.

After the goal, the Americans were able to get several scoring chances of their own in the first half, but striker Clint Dempsey and midfielder Michael Bradley sent whistling attempts just over the crossbar and Beto saved an ambitious shot by Jones. The Americans had nine shots to Portugal’s eight when the halftime whistle blew.

Portugal, the fourth-ranked team in the world and one of the pretournament favorites in Group G, had the possession edge but couldn’t muster another shot after the goal until Cristiano Ronaldo, playing as if his left knee was no bother, forced Howard to save his long-distance effort.

Ronaldo, who had a week filled with concerns over the tendinitis in his left knee, was quick and showed flashes of the brilliance that made him world player of the year in 2013.

The Portuguese team that was missing several key players Sunday. Portugal was missing defender Pepe through a red card suspension and striker Hugo Almeida and defender Fabio Coentrao, who are injured.

Dempsey was playing with a broken nose that he said made it hard to breathe in the Americans’ 2-1 dramatic win over Ghana on Monday.

The hero of that match, defender John Brooks, who came off the bench to score the game-winning goal, was again listed among the U.S. reserves at the start of the contest.

The U.S. is missing striker Jozy Altidore, who has a strained left hamstring. Dempsey, normally a midfielder, moved to the top of the U.S. formation in Altidore’s place while midfielder Graham Zusi slid into the starting lineup.

The game was being played in the heat and humidity of the Amazon rainforest. The heat index was 93 degrees at kickoff.

The Americans, 13th in the FIFA rankings, were cheered on by about 20,000 red, white and blue fans at Arena Amazonia.

The match has important Group G implications after Germany and Ghana drew 2-2 on Saturday.

With a draw, the two teams would still be in position to qualify for the knockout round, though the U.S. with four points would be in much better shape than Portugal (one point), which must beat Ghana (one point) on Thursday.

A Portuguese win would mean each team in the group (Germany leads with four points) still has a chance to move on.

With a win, the United States would have six points, enough to advance to the Round of 16.

The U.S. and Portugal are the final two of the 32 teams to play their second match. Monday features four matches, two in Group A and two in Group B, as several teams battle for spots and seedings in the next round while others that have been eliminated let some reserves get in a World Cup match.