The match was almost done and most on the Portugal bench had already come to terms with their elimination from this World Cup when Cristiano Ronaldo, right at the death, produced the cross that kept his team alive.
It was headed home powerfully by Varela and Portugal, like Ghana, are still alive. Realistically, given Germany’s vastly superior goal difference, they would need Joachim Low to beat his former boss, Jurgen Klinsmann, in Recife and then engineer a positive result between themselves.
Just as his great rival, Lionel Messi, had done against Iran, Ronaldo made his move when it seemed almost too late. There had been plenty of sweat running down Ronaldo’s brow in the Amazon but for most of the match he was heavily marked, and forced wide. He was not fully fit and, had his knee been right, the night might have been different.
Portugal scored early and they scored late. It was one of Ronaldo’s former colleagues at Manchester United, Luis Nani, who gave Portugal the lead in the opening exchanges after Geoff Cameron had made a hash of clearing Helder Postiga’s cross. He took once touch, Tim Howard in the American goal, went down fractionally and fatally too early and Nani blasted his shot into the roof of the net.
USA 2 Portugal 2 player ratings
USA 2 Portugal 2 player ratings
1/22 USA: Tim Howard
His part in Nani's goal was questionable, but made amends with a wonderful recovery save to deny Eder. 7/10
2/22 Fabian Johnson
A real threat going forward as the USA continually targeted the right flank. 7
3/22 DaMarcus Beasley
Expected a tough night against Portugal's attacking flair, but used his nous to keep them quiet for long periods. 6
4/22 Geoff Cameron
Looked nervous in uncustomary central position, and was at fault for the game's opening goal. 5
5/22 Matt Besler
Showed real guts to continue when injured, and made some key interceptions. 7
6/22 Jermaine Jones
Tackled well in midfield, and his willingness to have a go from distance was eventually rewarded with a tremendous equaliser. 8
7/22 Kyle Beckerman
Steady without being spectacular in midfield. 6
8/22 Alejandro Bedoya
Nantes man played his part in the midfield battle before eventually being subbed. 6
9/22 Michael Bradley
A night to forget for the experienced midfielder, who missed a sitter and then gave the ball away in the build-up to Varela's late equaliser. 5
10/22 Graham Zusi
Came in on the left-hand side, and performed admirably. 6
11/22 Clint Dempsey
The captain was everywhere in the first half, and, while he tired significantly, in the second, still managed to pop up with what looked like the winner. 8
12/22 Portugal: Beto
Stand-in goalkeeper was helpless to two US goals, but made some standard saves when called upon. 6/10
13/22 Joao Pereira
The Valencia full-back performed his role without drama. 6
14/22 Andre Almeida
Endured a difficult 45 minutes at left-back before being substituted. 5
15/22 Bruno Alves
Selected despite struggling with injury and was culpable of a lazy clearance before America's second goal. 5
16/22 Ricardo Costa
The pick of the Portugal defenders, who cleared brilliantly off the line to keep out Bradley's shot. 7
17/22 Miguel Veloso
Classy midfielder was at the heart of much of Portugal's best play. 7
18/22 Joao Moutinho
Kept possession well, but was often unable to find Nani or Ronaldo with killer balls. 6
19/22 Raul Meireles
Spent most of his time on the deck, and had little impact before his removal. 5
Bagged an early opener, and was a few inches of woodwork away from adding a second before half-time. 7
21/22 Cristiano Ronaldo
With a whole country's expectation upon him, he again faltered, but still delivered a wonderful cross just when they needed him most. 6
22/22 Helder Postiga
The curse of Portugal's strikers struck again as he departed injured inside 16 minutes. 3
Just before the break, the Everton keeper did far better. After Nani’s shot had slammed against the post, Eder seemed certain to finish off the rebound but for Howard, falling backwards, tipping his shot over the bar.
For Klinsmann’s side, this was the reverse of what had happened in their opening game, when Clint Dempsey had scored early and allowed the United States a degree of comfort against Ghana.
Comfortable was something Portugal had never been in the 4-0 rout by Germany which had given Paulo Bento’s side no other realistic option but to go for the win in Manaus.
However, Bento would have known how vulnerable his defence, lacking the suspended Pepe and the injured Fabio Coentrao and his first-choice keeper, Rui Patricio, would be. Before the match was 20 minutes old, Postiga was taken off with a hamstring injury.
Soon Patricio’s replacement, Beto, was being put under pressure, first by Dempsey who forced him to save from a tight angle, and then from two shots from Michael Bradley, the first of which thundered just over the bar while the second, travelling far less fast, slipped just past the far post.
After the interval Bradley came closer; denied on the line by Ricardo Costa. Fabian Johnson, part of a collection of Klinsmann’s squad that learnt their football in Germany, cut to the byline, beat Beto and left Bradley with the goal at his mercy only for Costa to block on the line.
The defender’s heroics gave Portugal only a brief respite as Jermaine Jones, who like Costa wears the number 13, unleashed a shot that curled past Costa’s head and buried itself in the corner of the stranded Beto’s net.
Worse, far worse was to follow for Ronaldo. Once more, Johnson broke down the right. Bradley’s shot was blocked but played back in by Graham Zusi and chested home by Dempsey. One of the two men who wore the captain‘s armband had made a decisive intervention. He was soon to be followed by the other.