Sunday's marquee affair between Portugal and the United States was painted with an inspiring American comeback victory, but Cristiano Ronaldo had other ideas.
The USA mounted an epic two-goal spurt in the second half to take a 2-1 lead, and stoppage time drew nearer and nearer to an end. Yet Ronaldo found one last opportunity down the right side and made it count. His perfectly placed cross found Varela, who finished it to keep Portugal alive with a 2-2 draw in Manaus.
Bleacher Report captured the deciding play:
For many of the minutes before that, Portugal's World Cup lives were very much in doubt. They took a 1-0 lead when Nani finished a gift-wrapped opportunity, but America pressed on and eventually found the goal twice in the second half to go in front.
Clint Dempsey was the hero in the 81st minute, staying barely onside to finish a cross to go up 2-1 as Sky Sports Football noted:
The Americans kept the clamps on in the defensive third and thwarted any Portuguese attack. It looked like the USA was headed to the knockout stage after a thrilling win.
Then, Ronaldo made his mark. He found space down the right side and crossed it into Valera for the game-tying goal.
The U.S. did well in many areas Sunday, but not in crossing accuracy. Ronaldo's one connected cross was more than the entire USA team, per ESPN Stats and Information:
Portugal certainly had their eye on three points throughout the match and won't be too content with the draw, but after fighting so hard in the closing minutes, they'll take it. Heading into a close-out match against Ghana, Ronaldo's side will have to win and have help to advance.
Meanwhile, the U.S. will head into a final match against Germany with both sides still fighting for a spot in the round of 16. ESPN's Dave McMenamin noticed the irony:
The United States-Portugal thriller was the end of an already enticing day of football in Brazil that included all four teams in Group H slugging it out.
Few group favorites have found an easy go of things through two matches, and the same can be said of Belgium. But for the second straight time, Eden Hazard's side found a late winner when the Belgians topped Russia, 1-0 in the closing minutes.
The two sides played to a sluggish match for much of the 90 minutes. There were few scoring chances going either way, and it looked doomed for a scoreless finish.
Belgium woke up as the second half progressed, however, starting to pour on offensive chances. They kept on coming up short, until Hazard broke through and found Divock Origi in the 88th minute. He finished into the back of the net to give Belgium the 1-0 win.
ESPN Stats and Information summed up how rare Belgium's performance has been in Brazil:
For virtually the entire time he was on the pitch, striker Romelu Lukaku struggled to find the ball and his teammates struggled to find him. Belgium opted to sub on Origi for him early in the second half, and it eventually paid off.
Infostrada Sports reports that Origi was one of the youngest to score in a World Cup game:
Belgium's win meant that Russia have just one point through two matches, opening up the door for South Korea or Algeria to take advantage in Sunday's second game.
The African nation seized control of the match early on and held off a late South Korean surge of goals to ensure a 4-2 victory, per Bleacher Report UK:
It didn't take long for the Algerians to take a stranglehold over the game. Within 38 minutes of play, Algeria held a 3-0 lead, and things seemed to be over before half-time even came.
In the second half, though, South Korea proved that they wouldn't simply roll over. Star attacker Son Heung-Min broke through for the Koreans with a 50th-minute goal, and momentum was quickly shifting away from the Algerians.
But one more Algerian goal put the South Koreans away in the 62nd minute when Yacine Brahimi finished a masterful sequence of passes to give Algeria a 4-1 lead.
Footy Vines captured the highlight:
South Korea would add a second in the 72nd minute, but it was far too late. By then, Algeria had wrapped up the three points.
A win was crucial for Algeria. A result was needed to stay in contention, but the three points allows them to enter their final match against Russia in a favorable position. If Belgium takes care of South Korea, all it will take is a draw to advance to the knockout stage.
Here's a look at the updated group tables and fixtures left after Day 11.
|2014 World Cup Group Tables|
|Remainder of Group-Stage Fixtures|
|Mon., June 23||12 p.m.||Australia vs. Spain||ESPN2|
|12 p.m.||Netherlands vs. Chile||ESPN|
|4 p.m.||Croatia vs. Mexico||ESPN|
|4 p.m.||Cameroon vs. Brazil||ESPN2|
|Tues., June 24||12 p.m.||Italy vs. Uruguay||ESPN|
|12 p.m.||Costa Rica vs. England||ESPN2|
|4 p.m.||Japan vs. Colombia||ESPN|
|4 p.m.||Greece vs. Ivory Coast||ESPN2|
|Wed., June 25||12 p.m.||Nigeria vs. Argentina||ESPN|
|12 p.m.||Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||ESPN2|
|4 p.m.||Honduras vs. Switzerland||ESPN2|
|4 p.m.||Ecuador vs. France||ESPN|
|Thu., June 26||12 p.m.||United States vs. Germany||ESPN|
|12 p.m.||Portugal vs. Ghana||ESPN2|
|4 p.m.||South Korea vs. Belgium||ESPN|
|4 p.m.||Algeria vs. Russia||ESPN2|
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