Manaus - The so-called “Group of Death” is living up to its name. Comprised of the US, Germany, Ghana and Portugal, Group G goes into the final round of games on Thursday with each of the four teams still capable of moving forward.
Since all of the teams will be fighting to stay alive, “Group of Life” might be the more appropriate name. Until the 95th minute of Sunday night's game between the US and Portugal, it didn't look like things would end up that way.
Portugal, which had been handed a 4-0 drubbing by Germany in the first game, had taken the lead early.
But spurred on by a huge contingent of American fans who had made the long trek to Manaus, Team USA mounted a spirited and skillful comeback which saw American captain Clint Dempsey score what looked like the winner in the 86th minute.
But in football in general, and at this World Cup in particular, the game isn't over until the final whistle blows.
And so, as the 95th and last minute of the game ticked down, and with Portugal and its superstar captain Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly out of the tournament, everything changed.
The FIFA World Player of the Year, who had followed his invisible display against Germany with another inconspicuous performance, picked up the ball outside the US area and launched a perfect pass to substitute Valera, who dive-headed past Tim Howard to tie the game 2-2, the final score.
The result set up a tantalizing final round of games. The US and Germany, each with four points, play in Recife.
A tie would see them both advance, no matter the outcome of the Brasila game between Portugal and Ghana, which both only have one point. Immediately after the game, speculation ran high that US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former World Cup winner with Germany, whom he also coached to a third-place finish in 2006, would contact his former assistant and current Germany boss Joachim Loew to arrange a suitably convenient draw. But Klinsmann was having none of that.
“There will not be that phone call,” he said. “The US is known to give everything in every single game. We have that fighting spirit and that energy.”
Known as a manager who builds his teams to attack, Klinsmann added: “I don't think we are made for draws. Both teams will want to win the game and win the group. Being in the driving seat for the round of 16 is our goal.”
Portugal meanwhile still has a mountain to climb to make it out of the group due to its inferior goal differential.
“We know our position is quite difficult now,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said.
“We're depending on third parties. We're depending on results of other teams. There's a high difference in goals, but that's the only hope we have, so we have to play. We have to continue and try to do our best.” Ronaldo was slightly less upbeat. “Mathematically it is possible, but in fact it is almost impossible,” he said.
“But in football anything can happen.”