Sunday, in Manaus, Brazil, the Portuguese National Football Team barely tied with the USA’s team 2-2 in a crucial Group G game of the World Cup. The draw puts the USA, in the driver’s seat to progress, with four points and a +1 goal differential over Portugal and Ghana who have one point each and -4 and -1 goal differential respectively.
The contest matched a USA team who had to play without their injured striker Jozy Altidore against a Portuguese team with a need to get over their drubbing at the feet of Germany while starting a Cristiano Ronaldo in much-less-than-fully-fit form.
The match was played in high humidity and heat and required the previously missing and now infamous FIFA water break, which was nonetheless given late, at the 38th minute, and only after a USA player seemed to get the ref’s attention.
The game started fast for Portugal who had the good fortune of a USA miscue, a mishit clearance that left Nani unmarked, in the box, with the rebound. Nani controlled the bounce and looked up. He saw Tim Howard going down, anticipating a low shot, and the Portuguese midfielder shot high into the roof of the goal for the score at the 5th minute.
Six minutes later the ailing Helder Postiga was substituted.
The half did not tilt Portugal’s way after the goal, as the USA reacted well and produced several good plays a few of which required saves by Beto.
The game instead became a back and forth match-up of midfields that had as its major accomplishment another shot by the hyper active Nani, which hit Howard’s right post and produced a rebound that was hit goal-ward. Howard, who had recovered from his dive toward the first show got up just in time to parry the second shot and save a sure score.
The half ended soon after Ronaldo had attempted a free kick from what is usually one of his favorite spots, near the goal and to the right side of the box. But his shot floated above the goal without much speed or force, speaking volumes about his health.
The second half began with the same intensity of intent if with more tired limbs. The Americans seemed to have the greater energy as the Portuguese could be seen walking the pitch. The ailing Raul Meireles and Andre Almeida were substituted one and twenty minutes into the match respectively.
At the 55th minute Michael Bradley received a cross after Portuguese goalkeeper, Beto, had been forced out of his position to cover the cross. The American midfielder had an open goal and decided to place the spinning ball rather than blast it. But a Portuguese player blocked the shot with his knee.
At the 62th minute, Ronaldo was provided a through pass similar to the ones he received against Sweden in the playoff that got Portugal into the World Cup. But Ronaldo is simply not himself and he did not bear down on the goal instead he could be seen slowing down and moving to his right, away from the goal, and then taking a poor angled shot that went behind the goal and into the stands.
By contrast, at the 64th minute, Jermaine Jones scored the goal of his life, a 25-yard boomer that hit the side netting inside Beto’s goal, without the goalkeeper having had a chance to react. The sound of the net exploding alone told the story--golazo! USA 1, Portugal 1.
At the 71st minute Nani broke into the box and was brought down by strong contact—a clear penalty. But, again, as has often happened this cup, no call was made.
At the 81st minute a good USA attack down the left wing left Clint Dempsey running into a cross and using his chest to push the ball into the net for the lead. USA 2, Portugal 1.
But Ronaldo’s spirit, as opposed to his broken body, was not done yet, and in the last play of the game he got the ball on the far right wing about twenty yards from the goal line and near the right sideline. He looked up and sent an inch-perfect cross into the box, between the defenders and goalkeeper, which was met straight on by the only Portuguese player in the box, the midfielder Silverstre Varela. His diving header was the tying score. Portugal 2, USA 2.
The result was not what either team wanted even though it was favorable to the USA and it left Portugal with a mathematical chance to qualify for the next round.
But the story here is that for the sake of their health and careers, several of the starting players of the Portuguese team might have been better served not playing this game. At some point someone needs to figure out that the risks are too great.