The United States came within 30 seconds of victory Sunday, about to enter the World Cup's round of 16, about to overcome history and sweltering heat in a come-from-behind win.
But then Silvestre Varela erased America's storybook win, finding the back of the net in the fifth minute of stoppage time to give Portugal a 2-2 tie.
"It's tough, but it's just the way it goes," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said after the game. "We're Americans. I think we like to do things the hard way."
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The team's fate will now emerge Thursday, with the outcome of Group G - nicknamed the "Group of Death" - involving different scenarios. The United States and Germany both have four points and are tied atop the group, ahead of Ghana and Portugal, with one point each.
The top two teams in the group advance. In the group stage of the World Cup, wins are worth three points, and draws are worth one point. All four teams have one game remaining.
Germany and the United States will play Thursday in Recife, and Ghana and Portugal will kick off at the same time in Brasilia.
Here are the scenarios:
- The United States advances with a win or draw vs. Germany
- If the United States tops Germany, it will advance as the winners of Group G and play the second-place team from Group H (which includes Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea)
- If the United States and Germany draw, Germany wins the group and the United States finishes second. The result of the other game is meaningless.
- If Ghana and Portugal draw, the United States and Germany advance.
- If Germany wins, Germany wins the group. The United States would finish second unless Ghana or Portugal won and passed the United States on goal differential. Team USA is plus 1, Ghana is minus 1 and Portugal is minus 4. So if the United States loses, it will be rooting for Portugal, because it's less likely that Portugal could pass the United States on goal differential.
- If the United States loses and Ghana wins, Ghana would qualify if either game is decided by a margin of two goals or more. If the United States loses by one goal, Ghana would need to win by two goals or be involved in a higher-scoring one-goal win. For instance, a 1-0 score in both games would send the United States through. But if Team USA loses 1-0, then Ghana would need to win at least 2-1 to qualify on goals scored.
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