Sports - Pro

Jun 22, 2014 8:27 PM by Posted by Greg Smith

Varela strikes to save Portugal

Portugal have avoided early elimination from the FIFA World CupTM in the most dramatic of circumstances after Varela's 95th-minute goal secured a 2-2 draw with USA in Manaus. The Stars and Stripes had been on the verge of qualifying for the Round of 16 with a game to spare after coming from a goal down to lead 2-1, but were denied in the dying moments of a game that was exhilarating from the first minute to the last.

The US had benefited against Ghana from an early goal, but on this occasion they gifted that advantage to Portugal in the most calamitous of circumstances. The assist for Nani's fifth-minute opener belonged, after all, to Geoff Cameron, who sliced an attempted clearance straight to the Portugal winger. Hardly able to believe his luck, Nani even had time to wait for Tim Howard to commit himself before side-footing confidently into the roof of the net.

It was just the kind of start that Jurgen Klinsmann must have been dreading, although he would have been hugely encouraged by his team's response to falling behind. The Stars and Stripes went on to dominate the first half, with Clint Dempsey again leading the charge, curling just over from a free-kick on 13 minutes.

Dempsey was again in the thick of the action four minutes later, racing through on to a pass from Michael Bradley and smashing in a shot that Beto just managed to deflect behind with his legs. Bradley then went for goal himself shortly after, crashing in a ferocious left-foot drive that flashed a foot or so over the crossbar from 25 yards.

The quality of Portugal's individual players ensured they always remained a threat, and Cristiano Ronaldo finally got a sight of goal after 36 minutes, though his long-range effort was just a little too straight to cause Howard undue difficulty. The US keeper was well and truly stretched in the final seconds of the half, though, when he pulled off a superb double save, tipping wide from Eder after he had diverted Nani's initial effort on to the post.

If that save was spectacular, it was nothing compared to the near-miraculous stop that Ricardo Costa managed 11 minutes into the second half. A US goal appeared inevitable when a lightning break culminated in Bradley shooting from close range with Beto stranded, but Costa - positioned on the line - somehow contrived to divert the ball behind with his knee.

But the Americans would not be denied, and on 64 minutes they drew level with a goal straight out of the top drawer. Jermaine Jones was the man responsible, jinking inside Nani 25 yards from goal and curling in a magnificent right-foot shot that bent just inside the far post, with Beto left utterly helpless. It was a goal reminiscent of Lionel Messi's winner for Argentina against Iran - only with Jones doing the damage on his right foot - and it was received just as ecstatically.

A draw was a positive result for the Americans, but a win would have been even better - and that was exactly what Dempsey looked to have secured nine minutes from time. And while this goal might not have been as spectacular as its predecessor, with the US No8 bundling Graham Zusi's cross over the line with his midriff, its importance could not be overstated.

It was not, however, enough to secure victory - and a place in the last 16 - for the US. That's because, with 95 minutes on the clock and the final seconds ticking down, substitute Varela saved Portugal with a last-gasp equaliser, bulleting a header into the top corner from Ronaldo's inviting cross.

It was the final act of a pulsating match, which ended with both sides still with plenty to play for in their final Group G encounters.

 

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