A superb header by Silvestre Varela deep into time added on saved world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal from crashing out of the World Cup finals on Sunday as it secured a 2-2 draw with the United States.
The Americans had looked to be safely into the last 16 after second-half goals by Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey saw them come back from 1-0 down – a goal by Nani – to lead.
However, with only seconds remaining one sublime cross from a pretty anonymous Ronaldo was met by Varela and it soared past Tim Howard to give Portugal a lifeline as a further defeat after the 4-0 hammering by Germany in the opening game would have seen them out.
The United States – who reached the last 16 in 2010 only to lose to Ghana – are on four points along with Germany, who they play in their final group game, and who their coach Jurgen Klinsmann led at the 2006 finals.
Ghana and Portugal both have one point and play also on Thursday.
Klinsmann, who was also within seconds of being the first coach to guide the USA to two successive wins at a finals since 1930, was phlegmatic about the dramatic dashing of their hopes.
“Obviously the last second is unfortunate but my guys were magnificent,” said Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup as a player.
“We just have to get a result against Germany. Obviously the Germans have a day more to recover and we have had further to travel for our game but then the big guys are the ones that get the favourite treatment.
“My guys went to the limit but now they have to pick themselves up and despite this result we will go into the game with a lot of confidence.”
The Portuguese got just the start they needed to settle their nerves as a terrible defensive error by Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron – the ball flying off his boot to Nani — saw the Manchester United winger wait for Howard to commit himself before rifling the ball into the net.
It had been preempted by an outrageous piece of skill by Ronaldo down the left side, completely bewitching three American players as they tried to corral him out on the touchline, only for a series of step overs and a backheel to see him squirm through the three of them.
Conditions even in the evening were so draining that five minutes from the break, when Jermaine Jones received some treatment, the referee allowed both sides to rehydrate with a drinks break.
Howard, who was earning his 102nd cap, kept his side in the game on the stroke of half-time as he somehow managed to stick a hand out as he dived the wrong way to tip a pointblank shot by Eder over the bar.
There was an even finer block the other end 10 minutes into the second-half as Bradley’s goalbound effort from only 10 yards out saw defender Ricardo Costa spread himself deflect the ball off his knee for a corner, earning a well deserved kiss on the head from goalkeeper Beto.
The Americans, though, deservedly levelled in the 64th minute as Jones produced a pearler of a right-footed shot from outside the area, leaving Beto rooted to the spot.
Ronaldo and the Portuguese appeared shellshocked and it was the Americans who grabbed a second as Bradley’s shot rebounded to Graham Zusi off a defender and his cross was put into the net by Dempsey’s stomach for his fourth goal at a World Cup finals.
That looked to be that until, like Lionel Messi with his late goal against Iran on Saturday, Ronaldo summoned up one piece of class with his pinpoint cross, which was enough to break American hearts.
Belgium beat Russia with late goal
Teenage substitute Divock Origi slammed a last-gasp goal Sunday to secure Belgium a 1-0 victory over Russia and a place in the World Cup’s last 16.
The win was a new step in Belgium’s emergence as a European power, 12 years after their last appearance at the World Cup finals. Russia, who are to host the 2018 finals, have a growing qualification mountain in front of them.
The 19-year-old Origi who plays with Lille in France came on for Romelu Lukaku as the frustrating Group H game seemed destined to end in stalemate until the 88th minute goal.
Seconds after fellow substitute Kevin Mirallas had hit Igor Akinfeev’s post with a free kick, Eden Hazard burst down the left past two defenders and pulled the ball back for Origi to hit into the net from close range.
The win left Belgium as clear Group H leaders with a maximum six points from two games after their 2-1 win over Algeria.
Russia are in danger of going out having started with a draw against South Korea following a huge blunder by keeper Igor Akinfeev.
Now coach Fabio Capello must rally the troops for a do or die contest against Algeria in the last game of the first round group on Thursday.
Belgium and Russia made a bright start and the opening minutes saw chances at both ends.
Victor Fayzulin, a Zenit St Petersburg midfielder full of running, swept into the the box and fired in a low effort that Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois smartly stopped low to his right
The Belgians, coached by Marc Wilmots, who scored in a 3-2 win for his country in a 2002 group meeting against Russia, responded as Dries Mertens pulled the midfield strings.
Mertens accelerated into the danger zone only to thump an effort wide of the right hand post of Akinfeev, retained despite his butterfingers mistake against the Koreans in Cuiaba.
Mertens drilled another effort wide as the Belgians, semi-finalists in 1986 when they were finally undone by Diego Maradona, turned the screw.
With the runners-up in the group likely to face Germany, assuming the three-time champions top their group, there was every incentive for both sides to chase the win.
Russia enjoyed a purple patch as the opening half came to an end, Fayzulin smacking a volley just over following a corner.
Denis Glushakov, booked for clattering Merhrtens, then crossed for Alexander Kokorin, who avoided being the meat in a Vertonghen-Vincent Kompany sandwich but sent a free header off target.
Algeria upset South Korea in six-goal thriller
Algeria ended their win-less World Cup run in style as they hammered South Korea 4-2 to keep their dream of a place in the knockout stages very much alive.
The Desert Warriors attacked from the kick off and should have had a penalty inside 10 minutes whenSofiane Feghouli was felled in the area.
But they didn’t have too long to wait to celebrate as Slimani rampaged onto Carl Medjani’s ball over the top, held off two defenders and clipped a neat finish beyond Jung Sung-ryong.
It was a moment of pure ecstasy for the Algerians and just two minutes later they were propelled into dreamland as Fulham reject Rafik Halliche rose highest to thump home a header from a left-wing corner.
The South Koreans had no answer to the vibrant play of Vahid Halilhodzic’s side and it was three just seven minutes before the break when Slimani made the most of a long ball and coolly rolled it to Abdelmoumen Djabou to steer past the keeper.
The Taeguk Warriors responded after the break and pulled one back through Son-Heung Min’s superb turn and shot before Yacine Brahimi restored the three-goal advantage with a low finish after exchanging a wonderful one-two.
South Korea kept going and Koo Ja-cheol diverted home with 18 minutes left but Algeria held on to claim their first World Cup win since 1982 and become the first ever African side to score four goals in a finals match.