The ball rolled across and substitute Silvestre Varela opened himself up, tried to push it beyond Manuel Neuer and into the net. But Neuer was at his feet in a flash and charged the shot down and away. The chance – what a big chance! – was gone, and Portugal started the group stage with a defeat.
In retrospect Varela probably had the time to jink the ball inside and roll into an empty net, so committed was Neuer to his block, but that’s asking an awful lot under the circumstances. No, Varela probably did more or less what he had to do, but was thwarted because the goalkeeper was alive to the situation.
Portugal had thrown away a two goal lead against Denmark when up popped Varela again. Here he was in the area, the ball coming across from the left. He swung his left boot and missed emphatically, but – and this is the crazy bit – the ball did not desert him. So Varela swung his *other* boot at the ball, and this time made contact from heaven, absolutely SMASHING it into the Denmark net. 3-2, drama of dramas, Portugal live to fight another day.
So Varela’s played about six minutes of football in the tournament. He’s scored a vital goal and missed a vital chance. The best thing is that vital goal though, how close he came to making an absolute pig’s ear of it, how emphatically he made the most of his good fortune when the ball stayed close. This encapsulates sport’s fine lines rather well, doesn’t it? If the ball had flown off for a throw in afterVarela’s air shot he’d probably never have seen the inside of a Portugal shirt again: two games, two big misses. But no, he threw that right foot at the ball with all his might and scored that master blaster goal and now is something of a hero. Crazy.
I don’t know that he’d be any use to Fulham. He’s 27, he’s not long been at Porto, and let’s face it, you can’t judge a man on 6 minutes of action. But I love his sense of drama, the fact that he bears a slight resemblence to Pele (or perhaps he doesn’t, but when I see Varela I see what I thought Pele might look like in today’s game, for some reason), and also I love the fact that he’s called “Silvestre”.