The United States was on the verge of securing a place in the knockout round, but a late header by Varela secured a point for Portugal and denied Jurgen Klinsmann all three points, leaving the US with a gut-wrenching feeling after a roller coaster ride in Manaus.
It appeared that Clint Dempsey had given the US a stunning victory with a goal in the 81st minute, but Portugal remained alive in the “Group of Death” by snatching back a point.
The match started with a gut-wrenching moment for the United States. Just five minutes into the game, Geoff Cameron went to make a routine clear on a ball into the box, but he flubbed it, and the ball fell right to Nani at the back post, and the Manchester United winger didn’t miss with a howitzer into the back of the net for an early Portugal lead.
The Seleção were strong in the early going, both before and after the goal, and the United States struggled to hold any sort of possession.
But the US held off any more danger from the opponents, and slowly built themselves into the game, proving the more dangerous side by the 15th minute.
It stayed that way for much of the first half, with the US coming close a number of times.
Clint Dempsey had the two early chances for the US on set pieces, first in the 13th minute on a free kick that he blazed just over the bar, and then on an 18th minute corner when the ball dropped to Dempsey on the back post and the striker looked to chip the keeper, just missing over the top again.
A pair of chances then fell to Michael Bradley, and he just missed as well. He struck one over in the 24th minute,and four minutes later skimmed a slow-roller wide, beating Beto the goalkeeper but beating the post as well.
Tim Howard was called upon as the half wore down, and performed admirably to keep the game at just 1-0. A pair of counter-attacks for Portugal proved dangerous, with Howard saving well off a Nani smash three minutes before the break.
He’d best that save two minutes later though, as another counter got Nani another shot, which he crashed into the post. The rebound found substitute Eder, who looked to loop the ball into the far corner, but Howard got up from his spot on the ground and tipped the ball wide acrobatically.
The second half began a tactical chess match, but the US had the first true chance 10 minutes after the break. Fabian Johnson bombed down the right flank, and brought the ball all the way to the end line before cutting it back brilliantly into the middle of the box, drawing Beto out in the process.
The ball came to Bradley, and with the goal gaping, he smashed his shot into the knee of Ricardo Costa who cleared off the line, breaking US hearts.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch continued to ask questions of the Portuguese defense, and they got their breakthrough for their patience. A corner ping-ponged through the box before coming out to Jermaine Jones at the top of the key, and with nobody expecting him to shoot, he fired a strike that Beto never saw, and it nestled into the far corner for the equalizer.
As the country caught its breath, Portugal put on a response, with Raul Meireles and Nani bagging half-chances in the next five minutes. Portugal manager Paulo Bento, having already made an early injury change and a halftime sub, then used his final substitution in the 69th minute to pull Meireles for Varela, using all three of his changes before the US had used a single one.
Things shut down for a bit as the US looked to be on their heels a bit, but it would all fall to them in the final 10 minutes.
An attack down the right side through substitute DeAndre Yedlin proved fruitful. The 20-year-old burst all the way down the flank and to the end-line before cutting back into the box. It bobbled to Bradley, who tried an off-balance shot, but he scuffed it and it fell to Zusi on the far side. The US winger cut the ball back into the middle, and Demspey crashed the box and chested it home for the 2-1 lead.
The Americans were forced to defend as the clock wound down, as Portugal looked to stave off elimination by throwing everything forward. It went down to the last moment, and a cross from Cristiano Ronaldo found Varela for an open header, and he put it home on literally the last touch of the game.
With the point, the United States remains in second place in the group, level with Germany on points. Portugal remains alive in the group with the draw, although they trail a qualifying spot by three points and own a -4 goal differential, five fewer than the US.
United States – Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Bedoya (Yedlin 72′), Bradley, Zusi (Gonzalez 90+1′); Dempsey (Wondolowski 87′).
Goals: Jones 64′, Dempsey 81′
Portugal – Beto; Bruno Alves, Pereira, A. Almeida (William 46′), Costa; Veloso, Meireles (Varela 69′), Mourinho; Nani, Ronaldo, Postiga (Eder 16′).
Goals: Nani 5′, Varely 90+5′