Ronaldo's last-gasp cross saves Portugal from elimination
Portugal star's cross deep into injury time sets up Varela's dramatic equaliser
UNITED STATES 2
(Jermaine Jones 64, Clint Dempsey 81)
(Luis Nani 5, Silvestre Varela 90+5)
This World Cup is already littered with the broken dreams of dumped superstars.
But Cristiano Ronaldo refused to accept membership of an elite club.
The world's greatest footballer was on his way home. Just 30 seconds remained. The United States were leading 2-1 and Ronaldo was heading back to Portugal with a shaved head and his tail between his legs.
But he would not quit. He gave everything as his body threatened to betray him.
He wasn't fully fit. The mind was always willing, but the knee was weak. Still, he persevered.
As perspiring bodies dropped in stoppage time as cramp consumed them, Ronaldo kept running, demanding more from his teammates.
He broke free on the right flank. This was Portugal's last chance. There would not be another. The final whistle was seconds away and they were bottom of Group G.
Ronaldo looked up and swung in a precise, curling spinning cross towards the penalty spot - the kind of vicious ball he practised endlessly as a kid, dreaming of this moment.
The delivery was perfect. Substitute Silvestre Varela was waiting. The winger sent a bullet past an exposed Tim Howard.
The Portuguese hailed their saviour. Ronaldo had offered little during the game, but gave everything in the final moments.
True superstars are defined in such moments.
This was billed as the rumble in the jungle and Ronaldo proved he was the greatest.
He stayed cool when it mattered as the heat flowed through the Amazonian city. The sun had set on the stadium, but the thermometer still nudged towards 31-deg Celcius and the humidity hovered around 70 per cent.
Sir Alex Ferguson's old-school motivational methods wouldn't be required in Manaus. The atmosphere inside the Arena Amazonia was hairdryer hot.
Flesh fried. Minds melted. The Group G contest was always going to be more an endurance test than a contest of attacking ingenuity.
Following the rumble in the jungle analogy, Portugal clearly sought an early knockout.
Missing their regular goalkeeper along with Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida, Paulo Bento's patched-up team pressed early in a game where defeat was unthinkable.
Geoff Cameron's scuffed clearance gifted Luis Nani the opening goal after five minutes and the Americans threatened to drown in the Amazonian city.
As helicopters circled the tropical, steamy venue, the game had the makings of a war movie. When Nani scored, it looked Apocalypse Now for the Americans.
But they regrouped around right back Fabian Johnson, who took advantage of Ronaldo's defensive duties. That is, he didn't have any.
Michael Bradley played architect in central midfield, with designs on threading passes through Portugal's centre backs to the faster Clint Dempsey.
The Americans had their half-chances from distance and were marginally unlucky to go in a goal down at half-time.
With Johnson putting himself in the shop window by flying down the right flank like Roadrunner on a conveyor belt, the electrifying Hoffenheim defender terrified the retreating Portuguese.
When he pulled the ball back for Bradley to tap into an open goal, the Americans were already celebrating.
Somehow, extraordinarily, unfathomably, Ricardo Costa lunged across the goal-line, allowing his knee to keep Portugal in the game.
And then, from nowhere, a Blackburn Rovers reject restored parity with a thumping, arrowed finish usually dispatched by the boots of Lionel Messi.
A mirror image of the Argentine genius' finish against Iran, Jermaine Jones picked up a loose ball from a corner. The midfielder cut inside his marker and curled one into the far bottom corner.
Beto didn't move. There was no point.
The sumptuous goal was so similar to Messi's that the Argentinian's lawyers could make a case for copyright infringement.
Those painted in red, white and blue in the stands erupted. So did the game, spilling over into another pulsating, see-sawing contest that has been so common at this wonderfully captivating tournament.
With only nine minutes left on the whirring clock, Dempsey bundled in the second to lift expectations. They could almost touch the knockout stages.
And then Ronaldo intervened to keep Portugal in the tournament. Now the saviour must repeat the trick against Ghana.
When you concede in the last second, it is unfortunate. but it was an amazing game from us, I can’t ask for any more.
— United States coach Juergen Klinsmann