Steven Goff (c) 2014, The Washington Post. MANAUS, Brazil _U.S. national team players lingered on the field Sunday evening, motionless for several moments, refusing to believe what had just unfolded: They had surrendered a tying goal on what was Portugal’s last desperate chance at Arena Amazonia.
Varela’s diving header five minutes into stoppage time forged a 2-2 draw and prevented the Americans from clinching a berth in the World Cup’s round of 16.
On another night of high drama, the United States recovered from an early deficit to score twice in the second half, only to settle for one point when Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross found Varela rushing the back side.
The so-called Group of Death will be decided Thursday night with matches played simultaneously: The Americans (four points) will face Germany (four) in Recife, while Portugal (one) will take on Ghana (one) in Brasilia. Two teams will advance to the knockout stage.
If the Americans and Germans tie, they will both advance. With a loss, the U.S. squad will need the other game to end in a tie or the winner to fail to overcome the goal-difference tiebreaker.
Jermaine Jones scored a sensational equalizer from great distance in the 64th minute and captain Clint Dempsey deflected a cross with his stomach in the 81st as the Americans closed in on a 2-0-0 start in the World Cup for the first time since 1930.
With Jozy Altidore sidelined by a hamstring injury, Jurgen Klinsmann adjusted the lineup by summoning five midfielders instead of four and leaving Dempsey atop the formation.
Graham Zusi, who assisted on John Brooks’s winning header against Ghana last Monday, entered the lineup on the right wing and Alejandro Bedoya received his second start. With two flank players, Jones returned to his natural position in the middle, forming a triangle with Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley.
Portugal, a 4-0 loser to Germany in its opener, was down four starters: goalkeeper Rui Patricio, defenders Pepe and Fabio Coentrao and forward Hugo Almeida. All were nursing injuries, except Pepe, sanctioned for a red card.
The Americans were in trouble from the start, conceding possession and not providing enough attacking options. Portugal hoarded the ball, probing for space and eyeing opportunities to liberate Ronaldo in the open field.
The U.S. resistance sprung a ghastly leak in the fifth minute.
On Miguel Veloso’s entry pass, Geoff Cameron butchered a left-footed clearing attempt in the heart of the box. The ball spun to the back side. DaMarcus Beasley was caught out of position. Nani settled it, then waited for goalkeeper Tim Howard to commit. Howard dropped. The Manchester United winger lifted a six-yard shot into the roof of the net.
In the 2010 World Cup, the Americans had been bedeviled by early goals — and a strike early in extra time of their round-of-16 elimination to Ghana. They reserved that trend in their 2014 opener, scoring 30 seconds into the Ghana rematch.
After the rough start, the Americans began to gain traction. Dempsey’s 30-yard free kick streaked close to the crossbar and, though Fabian Johnson’s right-side raids and combinations with Dempsey, the U.S. squad mounted mild threats.
Already weakened by absences, Portugal lost forward Helder Postiga to an injury in the 16th minute.
The Americans continued to target Dempsey. Goalkeeper Beto made a foot save on an angled bid and a defender intervened on another promising effort in the box.
The humidity began to take a toll, slowing the pace and prompting Argentine referee Nestor Pitana to stop play for a water break — a rarity in international soccer.
As halftime approached, Portugal sprung Ronaldo on a counter. He ran at Cameron before crossing to Nani for a deflected shot from the top of the box that tested Howard.
Howard was rescued by the right post in the 45th minute after he failed to properly punch away Nani’s hard but routine drive, an unusual gaffe by the veteran netminder.
He made amends on the rebound. Eber, the Portuguese substitute, had a free look at the target. Scrambling to get back on his feet, Howard was moving to his right as Eber’s shot floated toward the middle of the net. He reached up and back with his trailing left hand and touched it over the bar, averting a catastrophic end to the half.
Johnson was the catalyst at the start of the second half. In the 56th minute, he created an opportunity that should have leveled the score.
Turning the corner at full pace, he drew Beto away from the net and crossed to Bradley unmarked at the top of the six-yard box. The goal was as wide as the Amazon. Bradley fired. In a flash, Ricardo Costa rushed to the goal line and used his left knee to block the certain equalizer. Bradley could not believe it. Neither could almost everyone else in the sweltering arena.
The American pressure paid off in the 64th minute.
Zusi’s corner kick was not adequately cleared. Nani got only a soft touch on it, allowing Jones to gather possession. To avoid Nani and create space for himself, Jones pushed the ball to his right before unleashing a raging shot from 30 yards.
The ball spun and curved and streaked toward the far right side. With no chance, Beto remained rooted in place. He turned his head to watch. The only question was whether Jones had bent it beyond the upright. He had not.
With Portugal wilting in the brutal humidity, the Americans went ahead on Dempsey’s second goal of the tournament. DeAndre Yedlin crossed for Bradley in the center of the penalty area. Bradley’s shot was deflected to Zusi on the back side. Instead of shooting, Zusi crossed to Dempsey, who had been kept onside by the fallen Bruno Alves.
Portugal, however, had a last-gasp answer.