The United States did everything right to pull out the three points against Portugal in Manaus on Sunday, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani had something to say about that.
Nani scored in the fifth minute, and after 94 minutes of ineffectiveness, Ronaldo broke through with a clutch cross to substitute Silvestre Varela to lead Portugal to a late comeback and a 2-2 draw.
Often overlooked thanks to the aurora of Ronaldo—and in part because of his own bad form as of late—Nani didn't have to shine the spotlight on himself Sunday. Geoff Cameron did it for him.
The American defender's gaffe in the box came straight to Nani in the fifth minute of the match, and he fired it right over goalkeeper Tim Howard to give Portugal a 1-0 lead.
ESPN FC captured the highlight:
WhoScored.com noted it broke quite a long drought for the Portuguese winger:
Nani: Has scored his first goal for club or country since November 2013 (vs Bayer Leverkusen) #por— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 22, 2014
Gary Lineker wasted no time poking fun at the moment:
Nani has just matched his goal tally for Manchester United last season.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 22, 2014
Among others enjoying themselves over Nani's gift-wrapped goal was CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello:
That's probably the only way Nani is capable of scoring too.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) June 22, 2014
But even though Nani proved to be clutch in the early minute by giving Portugal a 1-0 lead they would hold up until midway through the second half, Ronaldo is the real star for the Portuguese side, and Twitter reacted accordingly.
One U.S. fan sported an entertaining sign, per BuzzFeed Sports:
CristiaNOPE pic.twitter.com/fmOwpgZipl— BuzzFeed Sports (@BuzzFeedSports) June 22, 2014
Portugal leading early seemed to play right into Ronaldo's hands, as it gave him more room on the counter-attack, but he's been dealing with a muscle injury that has plagued him over the past few months.
ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan thought that put Portugal at a disadvantage:
Normally Portugal 1-0 up early & being able to sit deep & break would be perfect, but not with Ronaldo in this shape.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) June 22, 2014
He proved to be right. Ronaldo was a shell of himself for much of the contest, skying chances way over the goal and failing to get real separation from USA defenders.
Bleacher Report's Will Carroll noticed Ronaldo's knee troubles impact him during a free kick:
Knee affected that free kick for Ronaldo. Did not set himself normally and lofted it.— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) June 22, 2014
Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty had a more lighthearted reaction to Ronaldo's free kick, as he blasted it into the stands:
Ronaldo held circle way too long.— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) June 22, 2014
As the match wore on, the United States equalized off of a beautiful strike from Jermaine Jones. Pressure mounted more and more on Ronaldo, and he continued to fold.
USA Today's Mike Foss noticed how the crowd reaction took a 180:
Ronaldo is getting booed with a passion in Manaus. Started as cheers in the beginning of the match, not anymore.— Mike Foss (@themikefoss) June 22, 2014
Despite his poor performance, his skill was on show numerous times throughout, as Bleacher Report UK captured:
While the Americans kept pushing, Portugal were searching desperately for anything to put them in front. Late in the match, Nani baited a USA defender into the penalty area and sold the contact a little much.
The Big Lead's Tyler Duffy thought it was a signature Nani move:
That was a "Nani"— Tyler Duffy (@tyduffy) June 22, 2014
The pressure only grew for Portugal when Clint Dempsey scored in the 81st minute to put the Americans in front, 2-1.
America had the fourth-ranked team in the FIFA rankings on the ropes, and arguably the world's best player was kept under wraps through 94 minutes.
Then, with the final kick of the game, he made his mark.
Ronaldo broke down the right side and beat out the American defenders with a perfect cross to the far post that Varela finished, as The Score illustrated:
You didn't think Ronaldo would get the last word in? https://t.co/qRC4dDiDcC— theScore (@theScore) June 22, 2014
There was no doubt to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch—it was a world-class play:
I must say: That was an absolutely brilliant cross by Ronaldo.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) June 22, 2014
Even American sports notables chimed in on Ronaldo's play, including Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria:
Man I'm sick to my stomach. USA fought valiantly and deserved that win. Ronaldo showed why he is a world class footballer.— Evan Longoria (@Evan3Longoria) June 22, 2014
Among those enamored with Ronaldo's cross was ESPN's Jason Whitlock:
How does Ronaldo make that pass? What an amazing clutch play. Guess he has the "clutch gene." That was Joe Montana w/foot— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) June 23, 2014
After the cross, Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post noticed an eerie similarity between Ronaldo's haircut and the game-tying play:
Ronaldo had that last play etched into his head THE WHOLE TIME pic.twitter.com/Qm0pHqUSWv— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) June 22, 2014
It was a rare showing of unselfishness from Ronaldo in providing the game-tying goal, as Anup Kaphle of the Washington Post noted:
What's what happens when you pass the ball, Ronaldo! Beautiful, beautiful pass. Nothing is decided in this group. #PORvsUSA— Anup Kaphle (@AnupKaphle) June 22, 2014
Ronaldo was more successful with crosses than the U.S. were as a unit, ESPN Stats & Information uncovered:
Ronaldo was 1-for-1 on crosses today. The entire USA squad was 0-for-14.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 23, 2014
Playing in the intense environment of Manaus, Ronaldo decided to troll us all by wearing long sleeves, as ESPN's Pablo S. Torre observed:
I love how Ronaldo is wearing long sleeves in order to troll literally everyone in here— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) June 22, 2014
Ronaldo may have ripped the knockout stage right from the Americans' grasp, but despite the world-class play, NFL Network's Dan Hellie was shedding light on the situation:
There's still a 100% chance that Ronaldo waxes his eyebrows.— Dan Hellie (@DanHellie) June 22, 2014
Even after saving the day and keeping Portugal alive, Ronaldo still didn't have the most inspiring performance. That had USA Today's Sean Highkin counting the positives for the Real Madrid star:
Ronaldo so lucky Skip Bayless doesn’t care about soccer— Sean Highkin (@highkin) June 22, 2014
It was a shaky performance from Portugal, to say the least. After going up early and taking advantage of a U.S. defensive mistake, they were sorely outplayed by the Americans for much of the 90 minutes.
But having Ronaldo on your side works wonders, and Portugal learned that lesson on Sunday. Less than a minute away from being eliminated from Group G contention, Ronaldo found an opening and got his side a valuable point.
Failing to win, however, means that Portugal's livelihood in Brazil comes down to one final match between them and Ghana. If they are able to pull out the three points there, they have a chance of catching either the U.S. or Germany in points and advancing to the knockout stage.
Follow Steven Cook on Twitter.