The relief was evident on the faces of the USA players as the final whistle sounded on their 1-1 draw with France in their second match in Group A of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. On the brink of elimination from the tournament after trailing to the French for most of the second half, Tab Ramos’ side pulled themselves back from the edge thanks to Daniel Cuevas’ late equaliser.

“We’re still in the race,” the hero of the hour told “I’m really happy tonight because it was such an important goal for us.”

The 19-year-old came on with 13 minutes remaining and the Stars and Stripes fast running out of time. Eight minutes later he popped with a vital equaliser for his side, rekindling their hopes of progress, which had been badly dented by a 4-1 defeat to Spain in their opening match.

“I could see that the French were getting a little panicky and that they were struggling to clear their lines,” explained the diminutive striker. “The ball came to me and without even thinking I just tried to put it away.”

Following Yaya Sanogo’s 48th-minute penalty, which gave the French the lead, and Luis Gil’s later miss from the spot for the Americans, Cuevas’ intervention was timely to say the least. As far as he was concerned, the equaliser was fully deserved: “We are a very tight unit and we’re always ready to help each other out. We never give up, even when things aren’t going our way and today we got our reward.”

The ball came to me and without even thinking I just tried to put it away.

USA's Daniel Cuevas on his crucial equaliser against France

The closing stages of today’s game in Istanbul perfectly illustrated the combative qualities of USA’s new generation, who have also acquired a taste for a more technical type of football than that found at home. Cuevas is one of four American players to play their club football in Mexico, the young front-man linking up with national-team colleague Hector “Benji” Joya at Santos Laguna, for whom he signed at the age of 17.

“We’re good friends,” said Joya in conversation with “He’s very quick and he’s got a really good eye for goal. He came on and he scored, which is exactly what we needed.”  

Cuevas and Joya believe the late draw with the France could prove a turning point for the CONCACAF giants in Turkey.

“It was a fascinating game,” commented Joya, still smiling after USA’s late escape. “The French are big and powerful, unlike us. We’re feeling confident, though, even more so after this match. Our only objective now is to reach the next round, and we’ll be giving all we’ve got against Ghana to get the three points.”

With a joker like Cuevas in their pack, USA still have reasons to believe that a place in the last 16 can be theirs.