Portugal are used to finding themselves in tight spots in qualifying competitions and at major tournaments, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ is no exception. Paulo Bento’s side were within a mere 27 seconds of an early exit at the hands of USA in Manaus on Sunday evening when Silvestre Varela swooped in the penalty box to head home Cristiano Ronaldo’s pinpoint cross.
The striker’s late show earned his side a 2-2 draw, and kept their slender hopes of reaching the second round alive, while thwarting the Stars and Stripes’ qualification bid, for the time being at least.
“I don’t know if I bring luck but it certainly seems that way. Even so, today’s result is no real cause for celebration,” said Varela, in conversation with FIFA.com.
The draw, welcome as it was in the end, leaves Portugal with an awful lot to do if they are to advance from Group G. Not only do they have to beat Ghana by a handsome margin, they must also hope for a decisive result when the Americans take on Germany.
We have to keep on believing
Sunday evening was not the first time the Porto man had come to his country’s aid with a late goal. Two years ago, at UEFA EURO 2012, he jumped off the bench to seal a 3-2 win for Portugal over Denmark in their second group game, a goal that kept the Portuguese firmly in the hunt for a place in the last eight, which they duly reached. The only difference this time is that he and his team find themselves in a much tighter spot.
“Things still look pretty bleak for us. We wanted the win and we’re a bit down about how the game went. We have to keep on believing though,” said Varela, who has grown accustomed to fighting until the bitter end.
“Playing for Portugal gives us strength and we’ll fight till the last minute,” he added. “That’s what the team did. We battled and battled, even if it wasn’t enough to get the win. We now have to go and win our last game and hope that things happen elsewhere.”
Hope springs eternal
Portugal centre-half Ricardo Costa, who has been deputising for the suspended Pepe, is no stranger to such situations either. Along with Cristiano Ronaldo, he is the only member of Bento’s squad to have featured in three World Cups. Not surprisingly for someone with so much experience behind him, he has a pragmatic view of the task in hand.
“We know what we have to do, which is to win our game,” said the Valencia defender. “If Germany and the USA draw, they go through, but that’s football. There’s always a lot of passion and anything can happen.”
Team captain Cristiano Ronaldo was equally defiant after the final whistle, lauding his team-mates for their efforts in the face of adversity, which has seen Portugal’s campaign blighted by injury and suspension.
“It’s the players on the pitch who play and who suffer,” said the Real Madrid star. “They all deserve a pat on the back. We’ve all given our best. Obviously we wanted to win but we couldn’t quite manage it. It’s virtually impossible now, but this is football.”