06/13/2012 04:16 EDT | Updated 08/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Silvestre Varela lifts Portugal to important victory

Forward Silvestre Varela scored in the 87th minute to give Portugal a crucial 3-2 victory over Denmark Wednesday at the European championship in Lviv, Ukraine.

Main storyline

Cristiano Ronaldo was saved by the foot of fellow forward Silvestre Varela.

Ronaldo had two glorious chances to the put the game away in the second half with Portugal leading 2-1, only to see Denmark fight back with the tying goal. As time was winding down it appeared Ronaldo was destined to take the blame for Portugal’s devastating draw.

Instead, Portugal is celebrating a thrilling victory over Denmark because of Varela’s possible tournament-saving goal. With the game tied 2-2 in the 87th minute, Varela missed on his first attempt, then turned and drove a shot past Denmark goalkeeper Stephan Andersen.

It was a surprising turn of event considering how despondent Ronaldo appeared prior to Varela’s game-winning goal.

Portugal, which led by two goals in the first half, still carried a confident one-goal advantage entering the final 45 minutes.

But Ronaldo’s two misses nearly cost his team. He first failed to find the back of the net on a partial break in the first five minutes. His struggles didn’t end there.

Finding himself alone on Andersen in the 78th minute, Ronaldo pushed his shot wide of the right goalpost, drawing a disbelieving look from the charismatic forward.

Denmark made Ronaldo pay for that miss two minutes later, with forward Nicklas Bendtner netting his second goal of the game off the goalpost and by goalie Rui Patricio.

The goal could've buried Portugal emotionally but Varela came to the rescue.

Portugal headed into this match producing little offensively in international play this year, although the three goals against Denmark should give the players confidence entering their vital contest with the potent Netherlands.

Pepe and Helder Postiga staked Portugal to a 2-0 lead in the first half, an advantage that was cut in half by Bendtner.

The Postiga marker keeps naysayers off the back of Portugal coach Paulo Bento, who had been criticized for keeping Postiga in the starting lineup with strikers Hugo Almeida and Nelson Oliveira available.

Postiga, competing in his third straight European championship, was left off the 2010 World Cup team by former coach Carlos Queiroz.

Yet the 29-year-old of 49 international appearances reaffirmed his coach’s faith with a strong effort.

What this result means

- With the win, Portugal climbs back into contention in Group B. Portugal has a leg up on Denmark but faces a stern test against the Netherlands in its final match of the group stage. Denmark must rebound against the always-tough Germans.

The winning goal

- The entire nation of Portugal can collectively exhale because Varela scored the nation’s most important goal of the European championship.

Man of the match

- Postiga is a good choice, but Varela’s goal should give Portugal new life and a shot at making it to the quarter-finals.

The Portuguese perspective

"We should have killed the game off earlier. We had enough chances. We were much better at finishing today." — Portugal coach Paulo Bento said

The Danish perspective

- "To lose in the last five minutes is very tough for us to take. We felt that one point at that stage was a very good result for us. But then we lost in the last five minutes and we are very disappointed." — forward Nicklas Bendtner