It’s not typical for a dramatic game-tying goal to result in blank stares from both sides. But Sunday night’s Group G contest between the United States and Portugal was far from typical.
Only seconds away from advancing into the knockout rounds for the second straight World Cup, the Americans surrendered a shocking goal to Silvestre Varela on the game’s final sequence in a 2-2 draw that keeps the United States in firm contention to move forward.
As for Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo and company are still alive to progress as well.
Yet even as Varela’s tally sailed past Tim Howard, there was nary a response from either side.
In a moment of surreal realism, players on the field seemed to barely acknowledge the enormity of the event. There was almost no response from Varela, who simply jogged back to midfield even as his countrymen went wild in the stands. Ronaldo displayed a similar lack of emotion and even Portuguese coach Paulo Bento looked unmoved after his substitute tallied in the final seconds.
On the United States’ side, Clint Dempsey simply shook his head. Goalkeeper Howard appeared befuddled, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann could only offer up the chance to move on to Germany in a mere three days.
Such is life in the World Cup.
Yet even through the disappointment of a draw, the Americans appear ready to advance. They were composed and organized from opening kickoff. The work rate was outstanding and, at times, the passing was stellar. Most importantly, Klinsmann’s team rebounded from a shanked clear that allowed Nani to give Portugal the lead just five minutes into the contest to stand seconds away from putting themselves atop of the vaunted Group of Death.
Therein lies the true takeaway from this match. Mostly overlooked by experts around the world once the final draw was announced in Brazil many months ago, two games have shown that the Americans belong.
Admittedly, John Brooks’ gasping header bailed out an otherwise flat performance from both the forwards and midfielders against Ghana. Sunday’s game with Portugal provided something completely different however. Simply put, the Americans were the better side.
The defensive grouping of Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley kept Ronaldo from having any impact for most of the game. Michael Bradley was back on form and Jermaine Jones played a wonderful all-around game, including his missile-like strike that evened the contest in the 64th minute. Add it all up and the United States has shown it can stand up to some of the world’s best.
A win against Ghana and a tie with Portugal have netted four points. Now, the task will be duplicating such a performance one more time.
The high-powered Germans will naturally be expected to win. When a squad carries the likes of Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze into action, they’ll always be considered a favorite.
None of that will matter to the Americans, however. It hasn’t after two group games and it won’t against the Germans in Recife. The United States clearly relished the underdog role and now, they have 90 final minutes to progress past the hurdles of Group G.
Forget the naysayers and doomsayers that predicted an early exit from this World Cup for the Stars and Stripes. The United States will take the field against Germany thinking only of advancing. If there’s one thing we’ve learned after two games, Klinsmann’s team is capable of doing just that.