Quality saves Portugal after U.S. ride fitness factor

Sun Jun 22, 2014 10:35pm EDT
 
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By Nick Mulvenney

(Reuters) - With one moment of genuine class at the very death, Portugal snatched victory from the grasp of the United States and kept their World Cup hopes alive on Sunday.

If football was divided between "triers" and "flyers" then Juergen Klinsmann's uber-fit side would be an embodiment of the former, while World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo could be considered the archetype of the latter.

For 14 minutes in the 30 degree heat and 65 percent humidity of the Amazon basin on Sunday, it looked like the triers would prevail courtesy of Clint Dempsey's goal, which he most unglamorously bundled over the line with his stomach.

But quality will often emerge and after 94 minutes of contributing very little, Ronaldo whipped in an inch perfect cross which substitute winger Silvestre Varela rocketed into the net with a diving header.

It was a brutal end to the evening for the Americans, who had poured heart, sweat and soul into their quest for a second victory and a place in the last 16 for the fourth time in the last seven tournaments.

Klinsmann has come under repeated flak for over-training his players, a criticism which gained more currency when his key striker Jozy Altidore limped out of the World Cup with a hamstring strain in the opening 2-1 victory over Ghana.

Central defender Matt Besler was withdrawn from the same match in Natal after feeling his own hamstring tightening, although he was fit to start on Sunday.

  Continued...

 
Portugal's Varela (C) celebrates with his teammate Eder after scoring a goal against the U.S. during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Amazonia arena in Manaus June 22, 2014.     REUTERS/Jorge Silva