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USA soccer on the wrong end of late World Cup miracle against Portugal

The 2014 World Cup already had one miracle finish for USA soccer. On June 22, it looked like the USA would have another big ending to pull out a match it easily could have lost -- one that would put it in the World Cup knockout stage. But in the equivalent of a soccer buzzer beater, Portugal saved itself from elimination with one pass from Cristiano Ronaldo and one header from Varela, securing an improbable 2-2 tie.

Last second goal saves Portugal, disappoints USA
Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Portugal technically used the same formula the U.S. did against Ghana on June 16. The Portuguese had a very quick early goal, slumped in the middle of the match, then got a fairly late goal to save themselves. However, the USA was never on the brink of losing and being eliminated like Portugal was.

The U.S. was on the edge itself early, after a turnover resulted in a fifth minute goal from Nani and Tim Howard needed some big saves late in the first half. But in the 64'th minute, the tide turned when Jermaine Jones hooked the equalizer into the net.

At that point, the prospect of a tie looked good for the underdog Americans, who would still control their own destiny and stay tied with Germany for first in Group G. Yet once the U.S. pressured Portugal in the 81'st minute and ended it with Clint Dempsey scoring the go-ahead goal off his chest, America felt a lot greedier.

Once five minutes of stoppage time began, USA soccer was on the verge of winning its first ever World Cup game after giving up the opening goal, while Portugal would lose its first game with a 1-0 lead. The Americans would advance in a second straight World Cup for the first time ever and be a win or tie against Germany away from winning its "Group of Death" while fourth-ranked Portugal would face stunning elimination after two losses, just like defending champion Spain.

Then Ronaldo erased 95 minutes of ineffective play by finding an open Varela. On the very last play of the match, Varela's header spared Portugal from elimination, and left an early exit still possible for the Americans.

The greatest World Cup win in USA soccer history suddenly became the worst tie in American history. Should the U.S. lose to Germany on June 26 and get knocked out, this will become an even more infamous tie.

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