USA vs. Portugal: A World Cup draw snatched from USA victory
Team USA came from behind, and went ahead 2-1 against Portugal in Sunday's World Cup match. But Portugal scored with seconds left in the game, to take a 2-2 draw. Thursday, USA plays Germany in a battle to go to the next round.
Manus, Brazil and Lisbon, Portugal — The were less than 30 seconds away.
The Americans were about to romp into the round of 16 at the World Cup, about to walk off with their first come-from-behind win at soccer's showcase. About to advance with a game to spare. About to win consecutive World Cup games for the first time since 1930.
But they wilted in the Amazon heat and humidity.
"It's tough, but it's just the way it goes," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. "We're Americans. I think we like to do things the hard way."
Now the U.S. may need a point Thursday against three-time champion Germany to advance to the knockout stage. The Americans could clinch with a loss, depending on the result of the Portugal-Ghana game that will be played simultaneously.
"Somebody sent me a text: It feels awesome and awful at the same time," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said.
Germany and the U.S. have four points each, but the Germans have a better goal difference. Portugal and Ghana have one point. All four nations remain alive.
Both the Americans and Germans would advance with a tie. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a star for West Germany's team that won the 1990 title, dismissed the notion that he would entertain trying to play a draw if asked by current Germany coach Joachim Loew, his assistant on his homeland's 2006 World Cup squad.
"There's no such call," Klinsmann said. "There's no time right now to have friendship calls. It's about business now."
The U.S. fell behind early for the fifth time in its last 12 World Cup matches when Geoff Cameron's wayward clearance gifted Nani a fifth-minute goal.
Tim Howard made several tough saves to keep the U.S. close, and Bradley nearly scored in the 55th, but his 6-yard shot toward an open goal clanked off the knee of defender Ricardo Costa.
Jermaine Jones finally tied it in the 64th with an exquisite 28-yard shot tucked inside the far post. And Dempsey put the Americans ahead 2-1 in the 81st when Bradley's initial shot was blocked and squirmed to Graham Zusi. He crossed for Dempsey, who let the ball bounce off his stomach and in for his second goal of the tournament and fourth of his World Cup career.
A screaming, pro-American majority in the crowd of 40,123 was ready to party late into the steamy night.
"We could all taste it. We could taste the second round. We were right there," defender Matt Besler said,
Eder stole the ball from Bradley at midfield and made a short pass to Nani, who sent it up the field and wide to Ronaldo. The two-time world player of the year lashed a 25-yard cross into the box, and Varela beat Cameron to the ball, deflating the red, white and blue-clad fans.
Klinsmann called it "a little bit of a bummer."
According to Jones, the American players took it harder.
Now it's onto Recife. Nothing is decided.
They could move on. Or after all this, they could be sent home.
"We have one foot in the door," the always-optimistic Klinsmann said. "Now we're going to walk the second foot in there and get it done."
Meanwhile, Portugal fans searching for explanations for their team's disappointing World Cup performances are finding plenty of possible culprits.
A last-gasp 2-2 draw against the United States on Sunday, following a 4-0 thrashing by Germany, has left the Portuguese on the verge of a first-round exit from the tournament in Brazil.
Returning home after the group stage would be a stunning upset for team ranked fourth in the world by FIFA. That possibility comes after Spain, Portugal's Iberian neighbor, saw its World Cup title defense come to an end after just two games.
The finger-pointing in Portugal began Monday. Targets for criticism included the team's perceived over-dependence on star Cristiano Ronaldo, poor physical preparation, misguided organization for the tournament, coach Paulo Bento's failure to bring new players into the team, and a squad that's thin on quality midfielders and strikers.
Ronaldo gave a candid assessment after the game in Manaus, where Silvestre Varela's equalizer in added time kept alive Portugal's slender hopes of advancing.
"We're probably just an average team. I'd be lying if I said we were a top team," Ronaldo said. "Portugal was never a favorite (at the World Cup). I honestly never thought I would be World Cup champion."
The Real Madrid player recalled Portugal's troubled qualification for the tournament, which it reached via the playoffs. "We have to be humble and know what we're capable of," he said.
Ronaldo also indicated he is below his best form. "Recently I haven't been how I had hoped," he said.
Radio station Renascenca described Portugal's performance a "fiasco" and demanded a public explanation from the Portuguese Football Federation. Callers to Portuguese radio phone-in programs mostly expressed anger at their team's showing.
Unhappy fans listed their grievances.
Bento, the coach since 2010, hasn't developed or refreshed his team, they said. Against Germany, Portugal showed just once change from the team that faced the Germans at the European Championship two years ago.
The squad has little depth. It is thin on quality midfielders and strikers. Eder, a forward with unheralded Portuguese club Braga, has never even played in the Champions League but led the Portuguese attack against the United States. That adds to the pressure on Ronaldo, even though his recent left knee problems apparently have made him reluctant to overly exert himself.
A spate of injuries has put fitness staff under the spotlight. Against Germany, three Portuguese players had to be replaced. Against the United States, another two went off. "It's not normal to have so many injuries," said striker Helder Postiga, one of the casualties Sunday.
Some people have also questioned the wisdom of picking Campinas, near Sao Paulo, for Portugal's training camp. That allowed the players little time to acclimatize to the jungle humidity of Manaus where they faced the Americans.