Portugal cling to faint hope after dramatic equaliser against USA
Agony for superb Americans as Cristiano Ronaldo sets up 95th-minute goal to keep team alive - just
Portugal are hanging on to a World Cup last-16 berth by their fingernails but will head into the final group G match with Ghana certain that the US and Germany will not play for the draw that would send both sides through, coach Paolo Bento said.
The Portuguese retained slim chances of progressing after scoring a late equaliser in a pulsating 2-2 draw against the Americans in the Amazonia arena on Sunday.
Bento refused to criticise either a weary-looking Cristiano Ronaldo or any of the other players for a lacklustre second-half performance in which the Americans turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
“Ronaldo was fit, he played the full 90 minutes and he didn’t seem to have any problem,” a poker-faced Bento said.
“This is a delicate moment for all our players. They are all a bit sad now and this is not the moment to criticise individuals.
“Criticise me as a coach if you will. We had a chance to get a result here today, we didn’t but we have to move on and try to beat Ghana.”
Bento was asked if he believed United States coach Juergen Klinsmann’s vow to play all out for a win against his native Germany, even though a draw would send both sides through at the expense of Portugal and Ghana.
“In my entire career as a player and coach, I have never been suspicious about my colleagues playing for a draw,” he said.
“Our obligation is to beat Ghana and although our chances are slim even if we do, we will maintain our professional standards until the very last minute.”
WATCH: Nani gives Portugal an early lead
All four teams are still in the reckoning with a myriad of potential scenarios, but Portugal can only advance if they beat the Ghanaians and hope the United States v Germany result goes their way.
Having taken an early lead through Nani, Portugal were on the back foot after the interval as a fitter US team turned the match on its head through Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey.
Substitute Silvestre Varela levelled at the death after a subdued Ronaldo delivered a cross into the penalty area, but Bento said neither the world player of the year nor any of his teammates had struggled in the humid conditions.
“We were fine physically, it was more the mental aspect that determined the course of the game,” he said.
“We were a goal up and then fell behind. In the end we got an equaliser that leaves us in with a mathematical chance to progress.
“We dominated the first 45 minutes and should have scored more goals but the situation changed in the second half. We never lost control of the match, although we didn’t dominate the whole game and failed to contain their right wing.
“The second US goal came through our mistakes and in the end I guess a draw was a fair result, although it left us in a very difficult situation.”
WATCH: Jermaine Jones hits a screamer
Klinsmann said his players had earned the respect of their opponents with a battling performance as they prepare to face the three-times World Cup winners on Thursday in Recife.
“We would have been very happy with four points from the opening two games,” Klinsmann said. “But conceding a late goal was a bummer that we have to swallow. We felt very confident after we turned it around.”
“It was very emotional for all of us: the players, the fans, the bench but we have to move on and move on quickly.
“Portugal is off the table, we have to recover for the game against Germany because the World Cup is always about the next game.”
WATCH: Clint Dempsey puts the USA 2-1 ahead
Klinsmann, who won the World Cup as player in 1990, complimented Ronaldo’s pinpoint cross, which he said followed a series of errors by the US.
“Goals always happen on a sequence on mistakes and although we had three centrebacks on the field they couldn’t manage to cut out that cross by Ronaldo and it was a very good cross,” Klinsmann said.
Despite needing at least a draw against Germany to make it to the knockout round for the fourth time in the last seven tournaments, Klinsmann said the US would aim for a victory.
“The US are known to give everything in every single game,” Klinsmann said. “We have that fighting spirit and determination to try to win every game and therefore we will go for a win against Germany.”
He said he did not expect a call from his friend Joachim Loew, the Germany manager who was assistant coach when Klinsmann led his country to third place as hosts at the 2006 World Cup.
“There will be no such call. We are good friends but we are both here to do our jobs. There is no time right now to have friendship calls.”