A superb header by Silvestre Varela deep into stoppage-time saved World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal from crashing out of the World Cup finals on Sunday as they secured a 2-2 draw with the US.
The US had looked to be safely into the round-of-16 after second-half goals by Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey saw them come back from 1-0 down — a goal by Nani — to lead.
However, with only seconds remaining one sublime cross from a pretty anonymous Ronaldo was met by Varela and it soared past Tim Howard to give Portugal a lifeline as a further defeat after the 4-0 hammering by Germany in the opening game would have seen them knocked out.
The US — who reached the round-of-16 in 2010 only to lose to Ghana — are on four points along with Germany, who they play in their final group game, and who their coach Jurgen Klinsmann led at the 2006 finals.
Ghana and Portugal both have one point and also play on Thursday.
Klinsmann, who was also within seconds of being the first coach to guide the US to two successive wins at a finals since 1930, was phlegmatic about the dramatic dashing of their hopes.
“Obviously the last second is unfortunate, but my guys were magnificent,” said Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup as a player. “We just have to get a result against Germany. Obviously the Germans have a day more to recover and we have had further to travel for our game, but then the big guys are the ones that get the favorite treatment. My guys went to the limit, but now they have to pick themselves up and despite this result, we will go into the game with a lot of confidence.”
Portugal got just the start they needed to settle their nerves as a terrible defensive error by Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron — the ball flying off his boot to Nani — saw the Manchester United winger wait for Howard to commit himself before rifling the ball into the net.
It had been preempted by an outrageous piece of skill by Ronaldo down the left side, completely bewitching three US players as they tried to corral him out on the touchline, only for a series of step-overs and a back-heel saw him squirm through the three of them.
Conditions even in the evening were so draining that five minutes from the break, when Jermaine Jones received some treatment, the referee allowed both sides to rehydrate with a drinks break.
Howard, who was earning his 102nd cap, kept his side in the game on the stroke of halftime when he somehow managed to stick a hand out as he dived the wrong way to tip a point-blank shot by Eder over the bar.
There was an even finer block at the other end 10 minutes into the second half when Portugal defender Ricardo Costa spread himself to deflect Michael Bradley’s goalbound effort from close-range off his knee for a corner, earning a well-deserved kiss on the head from goalkeeper Beto.
The US, though, deservedly leveled in the 64th minute when Jones produced a pearler of a right-footed shot from outside the penalty area, leaving Beto rooted to the spot.
Ronaldo and Portugal appeared shell-shocked and it was the US who grabbed a second as Bradley’s shot rebounded to Graham Zusi off a defender and his cross was put into the net by Dempsey’s stomach for his fourth goal at a World Cup finals.
That looked to be that until, like Lionel Messi with his late goal against Iran on Saturday, Ronaldo summoned up one piece of class with his pinpoint cross, which was enough to break US hearts.