photo courtesy maisfutebol.iol.pt
Portugal 2-2 United States
A last-minute goal from Silvestre Varela gave Portugal a 2-2 draw against a bright United States side in both teams’ second World Cup match. An early goal from Nani set Portugal on their way, but two second half goals from Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey gave the United States a deserved lead. But in the last play of the game, a Ronaldo cross found the head of Varela, who headed home with aplomb. The manner in which Varela scored is reminiscent of his last gasp goal at Euro 2012, when he came off the bench to score the goal that gave Portugal the win over Denmark. Though they managed a draw, the United States outplayed the Portuguese, and one could argue deserved to win the match.
Portugal are in Group G with Germany, United States, and Ghana; a group aptly labeled the “group of death.” In Portugal’s first game, the team fell hard 4-0 to Germany. From events stemming from the first match, Portugal were without starters Pepe, Rui Patricio, Fabio Coentrao, and Hugo Almeida, who were all unavailable for the match due to suspension or injury. This meant that Portugal’s starting lineup was something of a patchwork one, with Andre Almeida and Ricardo Costa replacing Fabio Coentrao and Pepe in defense respectively. Rui Patricio was replaced by Beto, while Helder Postiga resumed his starting role up top in place of the injured Hugo Almeida. Though their fitness was in question before the start of the match, Ronaldo and Bruno Alves both started for Portugal.
The game started very brightly for Portugal, with the team taking the lead after just five minutes. Miguel Veloso fired in an early cross, which was unsuccessfully cleared by Geoff Cameron for the United States. His botched clearance fell to the feet of Nani, who fired home for Portugal. It was Nani’s 15th goal for Portugal and his first in a major tournament for Portugal. And it was Nani who was the brightest Portuguese player for the first half of an hour. Portugal dominated possession, with the United States content on chasing the ball and counter-attacking incisively when Portugal turned over the ball. The game ebbed and flowed, with the United States gaining force as the first half was drawing to a close. Portugal was happy to counter, and came very close just before the half, only to be stopped by a pivotal save from USA goalkeeper Tim Howard. Nani picked up the ball on the right hand side and fired in a shot from outside the box. His effort struck the right upright post and fell to the feet of Eder (who had been brought on earlier for the injured Helder Postiga). The Braga man’s shot was expertly saved by the diving American goalkeeper. It was perhaps the save of the tournament and was definitely a huge let-off for Portugal. The team was up 1-0 at the half, but many questions surrounded their play, as the United States had begun to find their rhythm.
The United States, perhaps aware of what needed to be done, came out much more aggressively in the second half. And if it weren’t for a last-ditch tackle from Ricardo Costa ten minutes after the restart, the United States would have tied the game. The Valencia man was in the right place at the right time to expertly block Michael Bradley’s shot. Though Portugal got off that time, the message was clear. The United States were pressing more and more, and as a result looked the better team. Portugal looked poor and were struggling to cope with the increased pressure. And just ten minutes later, both teams got what they deserved. A rocket of a shot from United States midfielder Jermaine Jones thundered into the back of the net to level the scores for the two teams. The goal was a deserved one from the United States, whose play had warranted a goal. Portugal attempted a response, but the team was sluggish going forward and sloppy in defense. And then karma hit again. Around the 80th minute mark, the United States struck once more. The Americans ripped the Portuguese defense apart, and were rewarded by a Clint Dempsey goal. With the score at 2-1 advantage United States and Portugal looking unable to fire a response, many thought the game was over. Americans were shown dancing and celebrating their team’s (assumed) victory over one of Europe’s finest teams. But few remembered that this is the World Cup and anything is possible. And few could have predicted what happened next.
Around the hour mark, Silvestre Varela was substituted in for Raul Meireles. Before that point, Portugal had been playing in their favored 4-3-3 formation. Ronaldo, as usual, was given the freedom to roam from his starting position on the left wing. Though he could roam, he was largely stuck to the position of left-winger, and consistently popped up in attack on the left side of the field. Once Varela was substituted in, the team essentially moved to a 4-4-1-1, with Ronaldo given the freedom to roam as a sort-of attacking midfielder. This move was designed to give Ronaldo more freedom and to hopefully give Portugal the push to score a goal and spare the game. And it worked. Literally in the last seconds of the match, as the United States fans were celebrating their assumed victory, Ronaldo picked up the ball on the right wing. After beating his man, he fired in a perfect cross, which met the head of Varela and thundered into the back of the net to tie up the game at 2-2. USA fans were silent, and this time it was Portugal fans’ turn to celebrate. Though their team had been largely disappointing for the entire match, the Selccao managed to salvage a draw and keep their hopes of qualification to the next round alive.
Beto, Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Costa, Andre Almeida(William Carvalho), Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles(Varela), Joao Moutinho, Ronaldo, Nani, Helder Postiga(Eder)
So what does this mean for Portugal’s chances? First, let’s take a look at the Group G table as it currently stands:
Portugal has a very poor goal difference because of their heavy 4-0 drubbing from Germany in their first match. To have any hope of qualification to the next round, Portugal first has to defeat Ghana and Germany has to defeat the United States. If Germany and the United States draw, they both advance and Portugal is eliminated. Let’s look at some results that would put Portugal through to the next round:
Portugal 2-0 Ghana, United States 0-4 Germany
Portugal 3-0 Ghana, United States 0-3 Germany
Portugal 3-1 Ghana, United States 1-5 Germany.
Portugal 8-0 Ghana, United States 1-0 Germany (very unlikely)
Essentially, Portugal needs a miracle.