This is the World Cup that just keeps on giving. Seconds from qualifying for the next round, U.S.A. were struck with the cruelest of blows as Silvestre Varela headed in Portugal’s equalizer from a magical cross by Ronaldo.
The Americans more than matched their European opponents and deservedly took the lead ten minutes from time through the inspirational Dempsey. They may now need a positive result against Germany to get through the next stage whilst Portugal will be hoping for a favor from Joachim Löw and co.
There were no major surprises in both teams’ starting line-ups as both sides were hampered by forced absences. U.S.A. were set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Clint Dempsey spearheading the attack and Zusi replacing the injured Jozy Altidore. Matt Besler, however, managed to recover fully from a hamstring complaint.
Portugal took to the pitch with a front three of Nani, Helder Postiga and World Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo but had to do without the likes of Real Madrid defenders Fabio Coentrao and Pepe (who was suspended), and striker Hugo Almeida.
The first real chance of this encounter in Manaus came Portugal’s way after five minutes. Geoff Cameron completely skewed a routine clearance from Miguel Veloso’s cross into the path of a grateful Nani who converted emphatically from a few yards out.
Ten minutes later, the Iberians’ injury woes were further compounded as Helder Postiga was forced off with a thigh injury with Eder replacing him. Moments later, the Portugal goalkeeper Beto did well to save Dempsey’s low shot with his leg. The Seattle Sounders forward started the game brightly and was involved in most of U.S.A.’s forward play. After Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson both saw their drives from distance go off target, the Americans had Tim Howard to thank for going into half-time with just a one-goal disadvantage. With 41 minutes on the clock, he parried away a central drive from Nani who again tested the Everton custodian minutes later with a long-range daisy-cutter. Howard let the ball slip onto the post but reacted superbly to get his finger-tips to Eder’s rebound shot.
The second half continued on the same theme as the first with both sides creating decent chances. Ten minutes after the restart Ricardo Costa, who, like Ronaldo, is playing in his third World Cup, blocked Bradley’s shot on the line as Zusi’s pass put Beto completely out of the equation.
U.S.A. were not to be denied 8 minutes later as Jermaine Jones’ 30-yard strike flew like an arrow into the top corner past a hapless Beto. The goal sparked Portugal back into life as they tried to make the most of their pace in attack. Howard saved well from Meireles but U.S.A. still seemed the more likely to score again and so it was.
With ten minutes remaining, Zusi’s cross after a scramble in the Portugal box found Dempsey who pushed the ball into the net using the lower part of his abdomen. Now facing elimination, the Iberians looked towards Ronaldo for a moment of magic and he duly obliged with a wonderful cross in the 94th minute that was headed in by an unmarked Varela.
That proved to be the last twist in another spectacular game. Just what are we going to do when this World Cup is over?