Ronaldo magic cross keeps Portugal's hopes alive
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 Silvestre 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.
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.