Portugal Snatches Victory From U.S., Match Ends 2-2

The U.S. men's soccer team had a chance to secure its spot in the second round of the World Cup, but it failed to hold on to its lead in the final moments of the match.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, I was driving with the windows down on Sunday afternoon and suddenly heard roaring crowds cheering and chanting U.S.A.. It was a lovely summer day here in Washington, D.C., and the car rolled between two outdoor restaurants where people watching the World Cup on TV saw the U.S. score a goal to go ahead. In the end, the U.S. only tied Portugal 2 to 2. They were playing in the city of Manaus, in the thick heat and humidity of the Brazilian Amazon. NPR's Tom Goldman was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: And why wouldn't American fans inside Arena da Amazonia believe that they will win? There was under a minute left. The U.S. had battled back from an 0-1 deficit to take a 2-1 lead. And the Americans were about to win and do what most - come on, admit it - figured they couldn't, climb to the top of their opening round group and into the round of 16. But it was called the group of death for a reason. One reason is Portuguese superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo, whose ball-handling skills are obvious, even to the soccer illiterate. He had been bottled up and ineffective most of the night. But with Ronaldo, most isn't good enough when there are still ticks on the clock. U.S. defender Matt Besler recounts what happened with about 30 seconds left.

MATT BESLER: Cristiano finally got into open space. That was the first time he got a chance to take somebody on one-on-one. And he takes the touch and whips the ball in.

GOLDMAN: At the other end of Ronaldo's untouchable, bending, crossing pass, a guy named Varela, whose hard-charging header rifled past a stunned looking U.S. goalkeeper, Tim Howard.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: Of course, Portuguese elation was American misery, which is a pretty good description of U.S. fan Curran Hart, from San Francisco. He agreed to talk after the game but asked, do I have to be happy?

CURRAN HART: Heartbreaking - we were right there. Coming into the game, we would have taken a tie, you know? You've got to be excited for that. But it feels different.

GOLDMAN: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann called it a bummer. Besler called soccer a cruel game. Team captain Clint Dempsey, who scored the second and what appeared to be the winning goal, was stoic, befitting a guy who fell in love with soccer while growing up in a small town in Texas.

CLINT DEMPSEY: Yeah, it's tough. But it's just - it's the way it goes. We're Americans. I think we like to do things the hard way. So we're still happy with four points from two games. And we're happy with the way that we're playing and, you know, ought to play for in the last game.

GOLDMAN: The last game of this group stage round-robin is Thursday, in Recife, Brazil, against soccer power Germany, a three-time World Cup winner, four-time World Cup runner-up. After last night, the U.S. and Germany are tied at the top of their group with four points. Portugal and Ghana have one point each. For the U.S. to finish as one of the top two and move on to the final 16, there are several scenarios, including a tie against Germany. If that happens, both teams move on. And this possibility has a rich subplot. World Cup history includes agreements between teams on an outcome that benefits both. U.S. coach Klinsmann is German. He both played for and coached Germany in past World Cups. Last night, he was asked whether friendly relations with German coach Joachim Low may extend to Thursday's game.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you are saying if Joachim calls you and says, let's just play a draw, you're going to say no, 100 percent?

JURGIN KLINSMANN: There's no such call. Joachim's doing his job. We are good friends. And I do my job. My job is to get everything done in order to make us go into the round of 16. And that's what I'm going to do. You know, so there's no time right now to have friendship calls. It's about business now.

GOLDMAN: As hard-fought and emotional as last night's game was, moments after it ended, Klinsmann said the focus now is completely on Germany. The team flew to Recife last night. They did regeneration, or regen, including icing, physical therapy, stretching, on the plane. It doesn't exactly sound like a team planning to draw its next match. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Manaus.

INSKEEP: Is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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