Portugal’s Silvestre Varela came off the bench and smashed home an 87th-minute goal to give his side a nail-biting 3-2 victory over Denmark on Wednesday and keep them on course for the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
With three minutes left Portugal looked set to drop two more points after another flat tournament performance in which they let slip a two-goal lead against the Danes, for whom Nicklas Bendtner equalized in the 80th minute.
Then Varela, who had only come on in the 84th minute, was given time and space to take two swings at the ball, and whacked it into the net from 8m out.
He immediately disappeared under a pile of jubilant teammates and substitutes.
“Their equalizer was unfair at that stage of the match. We could have won the game more comfortably and with less suffering,” said Portuguese coach Paolo Bento, who had been under pressure after just one win in seven games.
Even so, Portugal’s unusually careless defense could have conceded a third goal, had not Lasse Schone fired over the bar in stoppage-time.
Denmark and Portugal have three points each in Group B, with one game left.
Portugal came into the game having lost three consecutive Euro matches, stretching back to Euro 2008.
They easily took a 2-0 lead in a first half marked by sparkling play from winger Nani, but looked to have thrown it away when Bendtner evaded the excellent Pepe and headed home a Lars Jacobsen cross via the post to make it 2-2.
Denmark, who beat the Netherlands 1-0 in the first game, now need to pick up at least a point against Germany in the final match on Sunday and hope other results go their way.
“It’s a horrible feeling to lose so close to the end ... the Portuguese were a bit luckier. Maybe they were a bit better,” coach Morten Olsen said.
Although Nani had an excellent game, making one goal and tormenting the Denmark defense, Cristiano Ronaldo disappointed in a big international game yet again.