By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A 95th minute equalizing goal ruined the USA’s celebrations as they were pegged back to a 2-2 draw against Portugal at the Arena Amazônia tonight. Varela’s last gasp header now gives the Europeans slight hopes of a possibility of progress in the tournament, while the Americans were denied confirmation of qualification for the last sixteen in the stifling heat of the Amazon.
In one of the most entertaining and open games of this year’s World Cup, Nani had given Portugal the lead after only five minutes before a long-range effort from Jermaine Jones and a chested finish from Clint Dempsey put the USA 2-1 ahead with less than ten minutes remaining.
Yet Crisitiano Ronaldo popped up with a devilish cross for Varela to head past Tim Howard in goal to cruelly snatch victory after a gutsy performance. The USA now play Germany in Recife on Thursday knowing a point is enough to see them through a difficult group. Portugal must beat Ghana and hope for a miracle.
This game started so well for the Portuguese as they completely dominated the opening ten minutes. And they needed just five minutes to take the lead when Cameron’s failed clearance fell to the feet of Nani to lift the ball over Howard.
Then the USA fought back, with Michael Bradley finding both time and space in the middle of the park to create danger. On 64 minutes, Jermaine Jones’ wonderfully curled effort from the edge of the area beat everyone to find the bottom corner of the net.
The momentum was not firmly with the Americans and Portugal were hanging on by a thread. In the 81st minute, Zusi’s cross found Dempsey unmarked to chest the ball into the goal and give the USA a 2-1 lead.
At that point they were safely through and Portugal were packing their bags, ready to go home, but, in the final minute of injury-time, Varela headed home Ronaldo’s perfectly measured cross to break American hearts.
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