Oh so close!

Tribune News Service • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:41 PM

As World Cup journeys go, the U.S. has gone from the driver’s seat to having to ask for help in getting a ride home.

That’s how big Portugal’s goal in the closing seconds of stoppage time looms for the U.S., which had to settle for a 2-2 draw in Brazil’s steamy rain forest.

With a win, the U.S. would have jumped into first place in its four-game group and guaranteed itself passage to the second round.

Now the possibilities are nearly endless.

If the U.S. beats Germany, the No. 2 team in the world, in the final group play game Thursday, they go through to the knockout stage no matter what happens in other group-play game between Portugal and Ghana. The same thing happens if both games end in ties.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. If the U.S. loses and Ghana beats Portugal by more than one goal, then Ghana eliminates the U.S. — again — and the Americans go home.

And it all happened in an instant. With just seconds left in the five minutes awarded for second-half stoppage, Michael Bradley was stripped at the center circle and Portugal was off for one final rush. Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year who had been kept under wraps all night, suddenly found space up the right side, then bent a picture-perfect cross into the box.

There it found the head of a diving Varela, who had gotten behind central defender Geoff Cameron. Before the U.S. could pick the ball out of the net and dash back to the center circle, the game had been whistled over.

That’s an abrupt U turn for a team that, 15 minutes earlier, appeared to have made history with Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 81st minute. The U.S. has never qualified for the knockout round of a World Cup in its second group-play game.

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