Mere seconds were all that stood between the United States Men’s National Team and a famous victory, and also a berth in the World Cup Round of 16, when Portugal’s Varela broke American hearts the world over with a headed goal.
90 minutes, plus virtually all of the five minutes of added time had ticked off of the clock when substitute Varela beat a tired U.S. defense and powered his header past U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, from a perfectly placed cross from Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, to tie the game 2-2 with the final touch of the match.
When U.S. captain Clint Dempsey scored in the 81st minute the Americans had come all the way back from a fifth minute deficit created by an awful Geoff Cameron miss kick that gifted Portugal with the early lead.
Once Manchester United winger Nani gave Portugal that early lead the U.S. were in a strikingly similar position to the one they had put Ghana in on Monday.
Now the U.S. would need to maintain their composure and work themselves back into the game. They did, and in impressive fashion. Against Ghana the U.S. midfield had trouble establishing any continuity, and Michael Bradley in particular could not link up with his teammates under the attentions of the rugged Ghanaians. It was all different this evening in the Arena de Amazonas, in Manaus as Bradley and Jermaine Jones connected time and again with lone striker Clint Dempsey and attacking fullback Fabian Johnson.
The U.S were the better team for most of the night, but it took a real bit of brilliance from Jones to finally level this match in the 64th minute.
The ball fell to Jones outside of Brazil’s penalty area and the veteran cooly sidestepped Nani before unleashing a curler that found the top corner of the Portuguese goal. It was no less than the U.S. deserved after a long period of dominance.
Even with the game tied the Americans continued to press the issue, also managing to limit Ronaldo’s opportunities. Portugal were facing elimination with a loss to the U.S. and had burned all of their subs when they inserted Varela for Raul Meireles in the 69th minute.
Despite the oppressive Amazonian conditions Klinsmann stayed with his starting 11 before turning to DeAndre Yedlin in the 72nd minute. A fullback by trade, the speedy Yedlin came in for Bedoya, and soon came good.
The U-20 U.S. star led a raid down the Portuguese right flank crossing to Michael Bradley, who got the ball to Graham Zusi. Zusi hit a pass that captain Clint Dempsey nudged over the line with his stomach, and the U.S. were on the way to the Round of 16, if they could hold on.
Of course we know that they couldn’t. The Yanks repelled attack after attack and Chris Wondolowski, in for a limping Dempsey, was doing yeoman’s work to maintain possession. It looked as if the Americans would make it across the finish line.
But the clock just wouldn’t tick fast enough. ESPN broadcaster Ian Darke announced that there would be four minutes of added time, moments later he amended that to five.
Then Michael Bradley failed to hold onto a loose ball. The ball quickly made its way up field for Ronaldo. Even though he done so little to that point, DaMarcus Beasley had to respect his talent, he couldn’t overcommit. With Beasley laying back just enough Ronaldo launched an inch perfect cross reminding us what he is capable of. Varela met it full on with his head. Goal, 2-2. Heartbreak for the U.S., euphoria for the Portuguese.
The dramatic result means that Portugal are still alive, so too are Ghana. Germany top Group G, tied on four points with the U.S. Ghana follow, then Portugal, each with a single point. A point against the mighty, if not infallible Germans, and the U.S. advance.
Game 3 is Thursday, June 26. Both games are at 12:00 o’clock. High Noon. It’s gonna be a showdown.