The U.S. soccer team was about to advance at the World Cup -- and then it wasn’t.
Portugal substitute Varela scored in the last second of the fifth minute of stoppage time to tie the match at 2-2 in Manaus, Brazil, and leave the Americans possibly needing a draw against three-time champion Germany to reach the round of 16.
“We had one foot in the door, so it’s a big disappointment,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Football is cruel sometimes.”
The U.S. would have advanced with a victory, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal would have been out with a loss. The draw keeps all teams in the group able to progress after Germany drew 2-2 with Ghana two days ago.
Ronaldo, the current World Player of the Year, swung a pass in from the right wing into the path of Varela who scored with a diving header, stunning American fans who were already celebrating victory. Television pictures showed some in tears, others staring forlornly in front of them.
“The finish was emotional for the fans, the players, the bench,” U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann told reporters. “But that’s what the World Cup is all about. You’ve got to brush it off and move on.”
The U.S. and Germany, which is managed by Klinsmann’s former assistant Joachim Loew, face off in their last group game in Recife on June 26.
American fans looked glum after the late goal in the corridors of the stadium in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest state where butterflies and other insects proliferated during the evening match.
“It was horrible,” Helga Johannsson, 56, the mother of U.S. backup striker Aron Johannsson, said about the last-second goal. “My face just dropped.”
The U.S. had rallied after Nani scored the opening goal for Portugal after four minutes, lashing in from close range when U.S. defender Geoff Cameron miskicked an attempted clearance and the ball fell to the forward.
With fans singing “I Believe in the U.S.A’,” Jermaine Jones tied the game for the Americans after 66 minutes, nudging the ball past his defender and smashing in a shot from 20 yards out that left goalkeeper Beto standing.
U.S. captain Clint Dempsey made it 2-1 after 81 minutes, pushing Graham Zusi’s pass into the net with his chest. Dempsey raced towards his teammates on the substitutes’ bench to celebrate with them.
His shirt soaked in sweat, Dempsey limped off a few minutes later with the Americans heading for victory before Varela’s goal ended what Klinsmann called “an extraordinary game.”
After restarting the match, Argentine referee Nestor Pitana blew his whistle for full time.
“People who were in Manaus will talk about this match for a long time,” Klinsmann said. “It was quite an amazing game.”
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