MANAUS, Brazil – They were less than 30 seconds away.
The Americans were about to romp into the round of 16 at the World Cup, about to walk off with their first come-from-behind win at soccer's showcase. About to advance with a game to spare. About to win consecutive World Cup games for the first time since 1930.
But they wilted in the Amazon heat and humidity.
Varela's goal on a diving header off Cristiano Ronaldo's cross on the game's last play gave Portugal a 2-2 tie Sunday on an exhausting night in the rainforest capital.
“We had one foot in the door,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
Now the Americans may need at least a point Thursday against Germany to advance to the knockout stage. They could advance with a loss, depending on the result of the Portugal-Ghana game that will be played simultaneously.
“Obviously we're disappointed, but at the end of the day you've got to look at the positives: We got a point,” American captain Clint Dempsey said. “We put in a good performance. I thought we played better than the last game. I thought we moved the ball better. I thought we created more chances. Just unlucky.
Germany and the Americans both have four points, but the Germans have a better goal difference. Ghana, which lost 2-1 to the U.S., has one point, as does Portugal.
The U.S. fell behind early, when Geoff Cameron's wayward clearance gifted Nani a fifth-minute goal.
But Jermaine Jones' exquisite 28-yard shot tucked inside the far post in the 64th minute and Dempsey's goal off his stomach in the 86th put the Americans ahead 2-1. A screaming, pro-American majority in the crowd of 40,123 was ready to party late into the steamy night.
Then Varela beat Cameron to the cross, deflating the red, white and blue-clad fans.
“It was unfortunate,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said, “An amazing game, amazing performance by our guys. Nothing more that you can ask for. We just go it the tougher way. We've got to go and we've got to beat Germany, get a result against Germany, and that's what we're going to do.”
Just like four years ago, the Americans relied on a late push. But they couldn't sustain it.
Now it's onto Recife. Nothing is decided.
They could move on. Or after all this, they could be sent home.