2014 World Cup: Late Varela Goal Saves Portugal for 2nd Tournament Running

Frank WagnerCorrespondent IJune 22, 2014

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 22:  Silvestre Varela of Portugal celebrates scoring his team's second goal as goalkeeper Tim Howard of the United States looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between the United States and Portugal at Arena Amazonia on June 22, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

With the final few seconds of stoppage time ticking away and Portugal heading toward doom on Sunday night, hobbled captain Cristiano Ronaldo rescued his nation with a heroic and perfect cross that was headed past USA goalkeeper Tim Howard and into the American net.

The man on the other end of that cross, Silvestre Varela, seems an unlikely figure to score such an important goal for a national team that revolves around its superstar captain.

Varela is a 29-year-old winger at FC Porto who has scored just 30 goals in five seasons with the Portuguese giants, averaged a goal every six matches for his national team entering Sunday night and came on as a late substitute.

L'VIV, UKRAINE - JUNE 13:  Silvestre Varela of Portugal celebrates scoring their third goal with Joao Moutinho of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group B match between Denmark and Portugal at Arena Lviv on June 13, 2012 in L'viv, Ukraine.  (Photo by Al
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

For the fans of Portugalhowever, Varela's goal was not so much of a shock as it was a reminder of the winger's ability to come through in the clutch for his nation.

Just two years ago at Euro 2012, after Portugal gave up a 2-0 lead to Denmark in their second group match, the contest seemed destined for a 2-2 draw that would take a huge chunk out of the Portuguese chances of advancing through that "group of death."

In the 87th minute, though, substitute Varela came through with a huge goal that catapulted Portugal through the group and onto a path that ended at the semifinals.

Portugal still have a lot of work to do to get out of their group this time around, but the clutch factor on Varela's goal was even greater on Sunday night. After all, Portugal were seconds away from being eliminated from the World Cup before the header.

The huge goal and great impact on the match now raises the question of whether Varela should be in the starting lineup for the all-important third match with Ghana. The point is only emphasized by the performance of Nani, who played extremely poorly after scoring a fortunate goal early on.

Then again, Varela is already proving quite useful in his role as a super-sub.

One thing is for certain, though: Portugal cannot hold anything back against Ghana on Thursday.

They need goals, and they need lots of them.