The referee’s stopwatch was 39 seconds from expiring.
The US World Cup team was about to eliminate Portugal to clinch a spot among the last 16.
Everyone at Arena Amazonia, and in living rooms and bars from Miami to Lisbon, surely figured an American celebration was moments from erupting.
But then, Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been frustrated for 94 minutes and held scoreless for two games, got his $80 million feet on the ball and broke America’s heart.
He calmly gathered a ball and sent a textbook cross to Silvestre Varela, who headed in the equalising goal just before the final whistle. The scoreboard read: USA 2, Portugal 2.
But it felt like a loss for an American team that had scrapped so hard and rallied from an early one-goal deficit on a hot, steamy night. Just 15 minutes earlier, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped so high in jubilation after Clint Dempsey’s apparent game-winning goal that his belly showed.
“Football’s cruel sometimes,” said US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had made a spectacular save to keep the Americans’ hopes alive. “We had one foot in the door.”
Klinsmann, the eternal optimist, saw it this way: “It was a thriller, real exciting match. Everyone who had (the) chance to be in Manaus will talk about this for a long time. Before all this started, if you had said four points (in the) first two games, we would have been very happy. But that goal, last second, when it could have been six points, it’s a bummer you have to swallow.”
A victory would have meant six points and a guaranteed berth in the next round. Now, the Americans are tied with Germany atop Group G with four points apiece heading into their final group match on Thursday in Recife.