The 27-year-old, whose market value of about seven million euros is less than a tenth of Ronaldo's, needed three minutes to do what the Real Madrid forward could not do in 90 on Wednesday as he snatched the winner in the Group B game.
There was more than a hint of good fortune about his goal as Varela took a swipe at the ball, missed it completely then got a second bite of the cherry and whacked it into the net.
But the winger, who came on in the 84th minute and scored three minutes later, needed a lucky break after experiencing the unglamorous side of football several times in his career.
Having been raised at Sporting and having played for Portugal at under-21 level, Varela could not get in the team and was loaned out to Vitoria Setubal and then Spanish side Recreativo Huelva.
He barely had time to settle down on his return before Sporting sold him to Estrela Amadora. Things then began to look up and, after one season, he moved to Porto where he made an impressive start.
However, it all went wrong again in 2010 when, only days after making his Portugal debut, he broke his leg in training, ending his chances of a place in the World Cup squad.
Having returned to fitness, he found himself squeezed out of Porto's first team by the club's army of South American players, playing only a bit-part in the team's various title wins.
Despite only 13 league starts for Porto this season, scoring three goals, Portugal coach Paulo Bento decided he was still good enough to earn a place in their Euro 2012 squad.
A man of few words, even by the standards of Portuguese players who are notorious for limiting their comments to a handful of generic phrases, he told reporters: "I'm happy but this was a team goal.
"You have to be ready to enter the pitch and we have to keep working."
With Varela almost certain to be back on the bench for the decisive game against the Netherlands on Sunday, Bento said he did not mind who scored the goals as long as somebody did.
"We have played two good games against two good teams," he said.
"We are playing the way we set out to play and it's all going to be settled in the final match. The goals will come, whether it is with Ronaldo or a different player."
In what could become a very complicated scenario, a win over Netherlands would give Portugal a strong chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals but would not guarantee it.
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