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USA's draw against Portugal shows just how brutal World Cup can be

USA's draw against Portugal shows just how brutal World Cup can be

Kevin C. Cox

COMMENT: The Americans put in a solid performance, but a last-second equaliser from Varela means all four teams in Group G are still alive

By Ives Galarcep in Arena da Amazonia, Manaus

It was a performance worthy of a victory but for the USA, seeing Portugal score a heartbreaking equaliser in the final seconds of Sunday night's Group G showdown had to feel every bit like a loss.

The Americans got off the mat after surrendering an early goal and played a great game. It wasn't perfect by any means; wasteful finishing and sloppy passes didn't help matters, but the USA took on Portugal toe-to-toe and even grasped control of the match in the second half as the European nation appeared to tire.

Sunday's 2-2 draw was a lesson in how brutal the World Cup can be. Two lapses, one in the fifth minute and the other in the fifth minute of stoppage time, saw the USA go from being in the World Cup round of 16 to being thrown into a blender with Germany and Ghana for the two places in the knockout round.

It was a night for heroes and scapegoats. Heroes like Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey and scapegoats like Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley, who will do their best to erase the memories of Sunday's draw before Thursday's crucial clash against Germany in Recife.

Cameron had a hand in both Portugal goals. His scuffed clearance gifted Nani a fifth-minute opener, then was beaten by Varela for the game-levelling header.

Ultimately, fatigue ruined the storybook ending for the Americans, who had nothing left in the final minutes after exerting so much energy to take over the match. You could see players staggering and struggling in the closing minutes, but so were Portugal. At least before Cristiano Ronaldo produced his only bit of true magic of the night to deliver a pin-point cross to the head of Varela, who timed his run perfectly to catch the U.S. defense sleeping.

It wasn't all bad for the Americans. On this night, they were forced to play and attack and push for a goal and it produced much better football than we saw against Ghana. Whether it was Fabian Johnson's surging runs or Jones' perfect blast of an equaliser, there were positives.

We kept hearing all week about how they had a game plan for Portugal and Klinsmann and his players were confident in it. They had reason to be. They limited Ronaldo's looks, cut off Joao Moutinho's passing lanes and handed target forward Eder very well.

Unfortunately, there was one minute of stoppage time too much, just enough time for Ronaldo to muster one moment of brilliance for a Portugal team that is all but assured of an early exit from the World Cup, doomed to that inevitability by the 4-0 loss to Germany that cost the Portuguese any chance of winning tie-breakers against Group G's other combatants.

Now there are realistically only three teams alive in the Group of Death, and the Americans aren't in bad shape heading into the group finale against Germany. Both teams are on four points, and a draw sends them through. There will be plenty of talk about the teams being likely to settle for a draw, but given Germany's attacking quality, the Americans can't take any points for granted from Friday.

If we've learned anything about this World Cup it is that you can't assume you know what will happen. What we do know is that this team has impressed, exceeding expectations and giving all the Americans here reason to be excited.

It might not feel that way immediately after Sunday's draw, but it will eventually settle in. The USA can match anyone in this tournament.