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Central defender Matt Besler was withdrawn from the same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.
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,"
"We have that fighting spirit and determination to try to
win every game and therefore we will go for a win against
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
"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)