Varela’s late strike breaks American hearts in Manaus

Klinsmann’s side looked set for qualification from Group G before late goal

Clint Dempsey of the United States celebrates scoring his team’s second goal past Portugal goalkeeper Beto during the World Cup Group G game  at Arena Amazonia  in Manaus. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

Clint Dempsey of the United States celebrates scoring his team’s second goal past Portugal goalkeeper Beto during the World Cup Group G game at Arena Amazonia in Manaus. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

 

Portugal 2 USA 2

Silvestre Varela broke American hearts with a goal in the dying seconds, just as Jürgen Klinsmann’s team were preparing to celebrate sealing a place in the last 16. Goals from Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey had appeared enough to eliminate Portugal before Varela struck.

With the reigning Fifa World Player of the Year in their ranks, Portugal were thought by some to be dark horses to win this tournament. Instead they were on the verge of being bounced out by a United States team that simply refuses to be beaten. Down by a goal after four minutes in Manaus, the Americans responded with the same spirit of defiance that they had shown in recovering from a late equaliser to triumph in their opening game against Ghana.

Germany and USA have four points and meet in the final round of group games when a draw would be enough to send both teams through. Portugal and Ghana have one point each.

Both coaches agreed in the build-up to the game that Portugal were not a one-man team. Try telling that to the crowd at the Arena Amazônia, large sections of whom roared with delight every time that Cristiano Ronaldo came into possession.

But it was not the Real Madrid player who opened his nation’s account at this tournament; instead it was a former club team-mate. Nani’s indifferent form had been a hot topic of discussion here in Brazil, but he found himself in the right place at the right time to capitalise on a horrendous mistake by USA’s Geoff Cameron.

In attempting to clear an innocuous cross from the left, the centre back somehow contrived to slice the ball over his own head and into the path of the Manchester United forward. Nani sat Tim Howard down with a shimmy before crashing his shot into the roof of the net.

A worse start for the United States would have been hard to imagine. But just as they had retreated into themselves in the wake of Clint Dempsey’s early strike in their opening match against Ghana, so Portugal seemed to lose their nerve in the face of such early success. Paulo Bento’s team withdrew into defensive positions, and Klinsmann’s side flooded forward to meet them.

Fabian Johnson led the charge, rushing at the inexperienced André Almeida down USA’s right flank. First the full back saw a shot blocked behind by Bruno Alves, and then he was chopped down by the same defender on the edge of the Portuguese box. Dempsey’s free-kick kissed the roof of the net after barely clearing the crossbar.

USA continued to make inroads. Beto – a late replacement for the injured Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal – pushed away a near-post effort from Dempsey and then watched helplessly as the same player lifted a chipped shot just over from the ensuing corner. Michael Bradley had a vicious drive charged down, and then fizzed another just wide of the far post from the left.

But it was Portugal who nearly extended their lead on the stroke of half-time, Nani wrong-footing Howard from the edge of the area only to see his shot ping back off the post. The Portuguese was first to the rebound and sent a lofted follow-up goalwards, but this time the goalkeeper was equal to it, springing up with startling speed to paw the ball away.

It was a world-class save, and also an essential one to preserving American hopes in this game. Portugal withdrew Almeida at the interval, sending on William Carvalho in midfield and moving Miguel Veloso out to left back. If Bento’s intention was to subdue Johnson’s assaults down the right, then he had failed. Only a desperate goal-line block from Ricardo Costa prevented Bradley from equalising after the American full back had beaten his man and drawn Beto out of position with another brilliant run.

For Portugal, this was nothing more than a stay of execution. In the 64th minute USA drew level with a spectacular strike from Jermaine Jones. Seizing on a half-cleared corner just outside the edge of the D, the midfielder opened his body out on the right before unleashing a violent shot that curled just inside Beto’s left-hand upright.

(Guardian Service)

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