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Soccer-Quality saves Portugal after U.S. ride fitness factor

Reuters

By Nick Mulvenney

June 22 (Reuters) - With one moment of genuine class at the

very death, Portugal snatched victory from the grasp of the

United States and kept their World Cup hopes alive on Sunday.

If football was divided between "triers" and "flyers" then

Juergen Klinsmann's uber-fit side would be an embodiment of the

former, while World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo could

be considered the archetype of the latter.

For 14 minutes in the 30 degree heat and 65 percent humidity

of the Amazon basin on Sunday, it looked like the triers would

prevail courtesy of Clint Dempsey's goal, which he most

unglamorously bundled over the line with his stomach.

But quality will often emerge and after 94 minutes of

contributing very little, Ronaldo whipped in an inch perfect

cross which substitute winger Silvestre Varela rocketed into the

net with a diving header.

It was a brutal end to the evening for the Americans, who

had poured heart, sweat and soul into their quest for a second

victory and a place in the last 16 for the fourth time in the

last seven tournaments.

Klinsmann has come under repeated flak for over-training his

players, a criticism which gained more currency when his key

striker Jozy Altidore limped out of the World Cup with a

hamstring strain in the opening 2-1 victory over Ghana.

Central defender Matt Besler was withdrawn from the same

match in Natal after feeling his own hamstring tightening,

although he was fit to start on Sunday.

BOOT CAMP

Klinsmann's pre-tournament boot camp was vindicated in

sultry Manaus, however, when his team made light of the stifling

heat and battled back after handing the Portuguese a fifth

minute lead through a Geoff Cameron defensive error.

Nani snapped up that chance with alacrity and nearly scored

again with a thumping shot that came back off the post in

stoppage time in the first half with Tim Howard saving

brilliantly to deny Eder from the rebound.

Those moments apart, the Americans had contained the

Portuguese and Jermaine Jones, the rock at the heart of the

United States midfield, equalised by a curling the ball into the

net with a strike of no small quality in the 64th minute.

Whether or not he has a debilitating knee injury, Ronaldo,

as he had in the 4-0 defeat by Germany with which Portugal

opened their campaign, looked distinctly out of sorts until his

decisive contribution at the end.

The 2-2 draw means the Americans need only a point from

their final match against Germany to guarantee their progress

from one of the toughest groups at the World Cup.

"The US are known to give everything in every single game,"

said Klinsmann.

"We have that fighting spirit and determination to try to

win every game and therefore we will go for a win against

Germany."

Portugal find themselves with their destiny out of their own

hands as they prepare for their final group match against Ghana.

Coach Paolo Bento was left bemoaning the impact on his squad

of so many having played for European clubs competing for

silverware.

"Many of the players had a very short break before the World

Cup and we have hence had many injuries during the tournament,"

he said. "This will of course limit our options."

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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