From Ground Zero: Despite draw with US, Portugal hanging by fire

Zee Media Bureau/Shobhan Saxena from Sao Paulo

Many football pundits have been calling it the “Real Group of Death”, and Group G lived up to that reputation as after a super-thrilling game between US and Portugal, which ended in a 2-2 draw, all the four teams are in a position to qualify as well go out of the tournament before the pre-quarter final stage. Though Germany, the group leader with 4 points, and the US just need a draw in their next encounter with each other to progress to the next stage, the group is still wide open.

On Sunday night, at a game played in sultry conditions at Manaus, the US was just a few seconds away from clinching a spot in the knockout stage, but a last-minute equalizer by Portugal made it 2-2. This means that Group G will go down to the final day. The US didn’t get off to a great start against Portugal Nani, the Manchester United forward, slammed a goal for Portugal from close range.

But in the 64th minute, American midfielder Jones fired a rocket to the far post and Portuguese goalkeeper Beto didn’t have time to stop it. The score became 1-1-. Knowing that they could clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win, the Americans kept pushing for a second goal and Clint Dempsey delivered in the 81st when he rolled the ball with his chest into the Portuguese goal.

In the dying moments of the game, as thousands of Americans were celebrating in the stands, Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a miserable game for 94 minutes, finally showed why he is considered one of the best players in the world. He sent a curling cross into the American area, and Varela, who had just come in as a substitute, beat Tim Howard to make it home.

The game was a big setback to the Americans. It has given a flicker of hope to the Portuguese, though they will have to beat Ghana by 5 goals in their last game. That would be an uphill task.

Earlier in the day, Algeria ended their winless World Cup run as they hammered South Korea 4-2 to keep their dream alive. The Africans attacked from the word go and should have had a penalty inside 10 minutes when Sofiane Feghouli was tackled from behind in the area. But they didn`t have too long to wait to celebrate as Slimani rampaged onto Carl Medjani`s ball over the top, held off two defenders and clipped a neat finish beyond Jung Sung-ryong.

The South Koreans looked helpless in face of some good play by the Algerians. But the Asians pulled one back through Son-Heung Min`s superb turn and shot before Yacine Brahimi restored the three-goal advantage with a low finish after exchanging a wonderful one-two. South Korea kept going and Koo Ja-cheol diverted home with 18 minutes left but Algeria held on to claim their first World Cup win since 1982 and become the first ever African side to score four goals in a finals match.

In the first game of the day, played at the iconic Maracana, teenage substitute Divock Origi slammed a goal to secure Belgium a 1-0 victory over Russia and a place in the last 16. The win was a big step for Belgium, 12 years after their last appearance at the World Cup finals.

The goal by the 19-year-old came as the Group H game seemed destined to end in stalemate until the 88th minute. The win left Belgium as clear Group H leaders with a maximum six points from two games after their 2-1 win over Algeria. Russia are in danger of going out having started with a draw against South Korea following a huge blunder by keeper Igor Akinfeev who let a ball slip in after managing to stop it on the edge of goal line.

Now the Russian coach Fabio Capello must rally his players for a do-or-die contest against Algeria in the last game of the first round group on Thursday. But, having defeated South Korea in a convincing performance, Algeria too are eyeing a place in the last 16 and are likely to play out of their skin to make history.

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