Portugal's last-gasp strike denies USA's passage to Round of 16

Portugal's last-gasp strike denies USA straight passage to Round of 16

Portugal's last-gasp strike denies USA straight passage to Round of 16

Portugal and Clint Dempsey traded goals on as the United States men's national team were held to a 2-2 draw in Manaus on Sunday night.

Silvestre Varela scored with the final kick of the game to deny the Americans a famous win. The result denied the Americans an early berth into the knockout round -- and left all teams in the Group of Death with a chance to advance on the final day of group play.

"We had one foot in the door," Tim Howard said after the match. "It hurt when that [goal] goes in, but the game is cruel, and we will try to be positive. We’ll give ourselves 24 hours to see what we did wrong."

With Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo still misfiring and the Americans’ Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley buzzing, it was the Yanks who had the better chances and looked more likely to win the game -- but while this draw will feel like a punch in the stomach after the late dramatics we saw -- in the end it is a result that the United States will take.

The Americans only need a draw against Germany on Thursday to book their Round of 16 slot. Portugal will need a win over Ghana on the same day to stay in the hunt.

“We’re disappointed, but we got four points, and at the end of the day, we’re still looking good in the group,” said Clint Dempsey to ESPN after the match.

Varela stole the win from the USA late with a header past Howard on the final move of the game. Ronaldo, not a factor all game long, sent in a cross that the substitute rose and headed home, stunning the overwhelmingly pro-American crowd.

“Obviously when you get into the last second, it’s unfortunate,” said Klinsmann. “Now we got to beat Germany, and that’s what we got to do."

The USA seized the lead with nine minutes to play, and it was a team goal that prised a fragile Portuguese backline apart. Jermaine Jones passed the ball down wide right to DeAndre Yedlin, who pulled the ball back up to Bradley at the top of the box. He put the ball down wide left to Graham Zusi, and his whipped-in cross was met by Dempsey’s chest to beat Beto in the goal.

That goal capped a recovery that had begun in the 5th minute, after the Americans foolishly conceded. The Americans have been notorious for their slow starts, and in the murk of Manaus on Sunday night, they looked downright lethargic at the whistle. They paid for it immediately. Nani was able to roof the ball into the net right on five minutes after a dreadful mistake from Geoff Cameron. Miguel Veloso sent in a very routine diagonal that Cameron scuffed off his shin, looping it over his own backline to the lurking Nani. Tim Howard, caught in two minds, sat down to keep Nani from going low; his one-time teammate at Manchester United simply went high. It was a terrible goal to give up -- especially to a man who hadn’t netted for his club in the league all season long.

But the Americans, who do not lack confidence, immediately came back with guns blazing. Dempsey fired a free kick just over Beto’s bar eight minutes later and then scooped another chance wide two minutes later. Bradley would whip a fizzing shot over in the 24th minute. Portugal also took a blow when Helder Postiga had to be removed with what looked like a bad hamstring injury that may rule him out for the remainder of the World Cup. In came Eder, who promptly disappeared.

That Bradley-Dempsey combination became slicker and sharper, with Bradley occupying a more central role and shaking off what had been a dire match against Ghana. Time and time again, he was able to split the Portuguese central defense and get an overload on the near side. His service allowed Zusi to slip Dempsey through again in the 28th and had Ricardo Costa not dove in with a saving tackle, the ball likely would have been in the back of Beto’s net. Bradley had a go himself a minute later and while Beto might have had the post covered, he did not miss the frame by much.

After the break, Johnson tried to channel Landon Donovan’s famous near post strike, driving the ball at Beto, but a timely boot from Veloso took the sting out of it. But the stop of the game came in the 56th, when Zusi peeled off his marker and found Fabian Johnson. Johnson pulled Beto towards him, and he slotted the ball left to Bradley, who was presented with a sidefoot and a gaping net. Ricardo Costa leapt in, and managed to knee to ball out off his line, preserving the lead.

And then, the breakthrough. Zusi sent in a corner kick that was only half-cleared, and when the ball rolled out to Jones, the backline froze. The German belted a frozen rope to the far corner, leaving Beto stunned -- and the Americans delirious. It was Jones’ first World Cup goal and it could not have come at a more opportune time.

Ronaldo, started as expected despite all the pre-game chatter about his dodgy left knee. Jozy Altidore, out with a strained hamstring, did not, and sat on the bench staring on. Dempsey took the field with two fine shiners but without a mask to protect his broken nose, against medical advice. Portugal’s Pepe (suspended), Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao (both injured) were out as well.

Of the banged up group, Ronaldo’s injury was the one that hurt the most. There were only occasional reminders of his presence; he ran off Kyle Beckerman in the 42nd and found Nani, who unleashed a stinging shot that Howard did well to save. Yet more often than not, the Ronaldo we saw was the man glimpsed on the hour mark, on a clean breakaway, he shanked his shot so wide right even Howard was astonished. While some of the reports on Ronaldo’s health have bordered on the hysteric, is was clear the player who took the field tonight was a shadow of the man who led Real Madrid to UEFA Champions League glory this past season.

Howard must also get his due. He made a series of critical saves to keep the USA in it, no bigger than before the break, when Nani ripped a shot off the goal post -- and Howard somehow palmed it away Eder’s rebound from his hands and knees.

Soccer is a funny game. You can argue that the USA should have lost their opening match against Ghana on the run of play, but they did not. On Sunday night, they always looked as if they should win. They did not. And now they must wait.

"We talk all the time about what we’re like on the hardest days, and when the biggest tests come, how to be respond to difficult moments," said an exhausted Bradley after the match. "But it’s another example of us showing everyone who we are and what makes us a good team. Certainly disappointed that we didn’t finish the job, but that’s soccer, it can be a cruel game."



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